In the northwest corner of Arkansas 47 years ago, bass fishing changed dramatically. Ray Scott put on his first competition.
We may be seeing more change these days, but this time it is gradual as opposed to that 1967 first modern bass tournament. You may substitute the term honest for modern if you so choose.
In addition to today’s big-money professional circuits, we have college bass action coming along and high school bass competition is getting started.
A few days ago, I attended the Arkansas High School State Championship in bass fishing on Bull Shoals Lake. It was an undertaking of The Bass Federation, which is a division of FLW Outdoors, one of the two major bass circuits.
The older BASS (Bass Anglers Sportsman Society) has a series of college tournaments operating now, and FLW is working with the high school fishermen. Rivalry? Maybe.
Several hundred spectators, largely families and friends, were on hand for the weigh-in of the one-day tournament, and the young contestants brought in fish, but not the "big’uns" they wanted and that spectators like to see.
Two high school juniors from Highland won the tournament by a couple of ounces over a senior and a junior from Flippin. What was eye-opening was three of the four fishermen in the two top positions were girls.
Girls can catch bass.
This was pretty much an open tournament in that any two students connected with an Arkansas high school could enter. The school affiliation was loose, ranging from virtually none to directed and coached by a school superintendent. There was not a connection with the Arkansas Activities Association, which governs the traditional high school sports.
These days, high school students in many communities can participate in trapshooting and in archery — endeavors of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. Could bass fishing be around the corner?
A facet of the high school bass tournament was each two-angler team worked from a boat driven by an adult, often the team coach. That may answer your concern about turning kids loose on a lake in a rig that can run 70-plus miles an hour.
I said there was a lack of big bass in the Bull Shoals event. Largest fish weighed in went a bit over three pounds — not a little fish at all, but short of the lunker status that most, not all, adult bass tournaments produce. Lunker generally means five pounds and over.
A majority of the contestants at Bull Shoals were decked out in logo-encrusted shirts like the professional bass folks wear. They used rods and reels like the pros use. They used lures like the pros use. Some of them talked bass lingo like the pros do.
It was a fun thing, and that’s not saying these high school students were not dead serious about their fishing.
The two members of the winning team received handsome trophies and something else that may be an indicator of things possibly to come. Emma Johnson and Preston Wilfs, who just finished their junior years at Highland High School, were each handed certificates for $5,000 scholarships to the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff’s Aquaculture and Fisheries Department.
They may choose some other colleges and some other fields of study, but just the offer is enough to show high school bass fishing could be a coming thing in Arkansas.