May 13, 2014 by Colin Moore
When Morgan Boggs showed up to fish the Kentucky High School State Championship tournament on Kentucky Lake in May, it didn't turn many heads. Although Morgan was the only girl who qualified for the event in 2014 - as was the case in 2013 - generally the presence of a female angler in a sanctioned High School Fishing event is hardly newsworthy these days. In fact, what was perhaps more unusual was that there weren't more girls entered in the tournament.
According to The Bass Federation (TBF) National Youth Director Mark Gintert, on average girls compose about 15 percent of the field in High School Fishing tournaments, which are made possible through a partnership of TBF and FLW under the auspices of the Student Angler Federation (SAF). The involvement of girls in the program fulfills one of the original goals of High School Fishing: to promote education, develop co-educational fishing competitions that encourage the development of self-discipline and problem-solving strategies, as well as reward teamwork and sportsmanship.
Predictably, high school boys who grew up fishing with their fathers and grandfathers flocked to the program, but so too did their female classmates who also were raised in fishing households. And they're proving that fishing skill is gender-neutral.
â€¢ In 2012, Chelsey Queen and her younger brother, Christopher, of Bandy High School won the North Carolina High School State Championship, then won the Southeastern Conference Championship and eventually placed fifth in the High School Fishing National Championship. Chelsey became the first female to win a college fishing scholarship (to Bethel University in Tennessee). She's now a member of the fishing team there.
â€¢ Kaitlyn Boswell, a 16-year-old freshman at Bartow High School, and her teammate, Cole Schmucker, also a freshman, won the 2013 Florida State High School Championship ahead of 42 other teams.
â€¢ In March of this year, Buna High School angler Emily Walker claimed the first-place trophy in a Southeast Texas High School Fishing Association (STHSFA) tournament on Sam Rayburn that drew 233 teams. The 17-year-old junior's partner in the event, Ty Cleveland, had to leave early that day to compete in a baseball tournament, so she fished alone after 11 a.m.
That afternoon, Emily caught a 7-pound bass while fishing solo with her "boat captain," her dad, Kevin Walker Jr., and culled other fish to amass the winning stringer.
â€¢ Baylee Linker, who fished for the River Valley Youth Fishing Club while attending Pottsville High School, is currently a member of the Arkansas Tech University Fishing Club and also fishes the Walmart Bass Fishing League. As a co-angler in the Arkie Division, she's placed as high as sixth in a tournament.
â€¢ Last weekend, Haleigh Caldwell, an 18-year-old senior at Gallia High School, and her sister, Jalea, a 15-year-old freshman, came within an eyelash of winning the Ohio High School State Championship, which drew 35 qualified teams. The siblings finished second by slightly less than a pound. Haleigh was also on the 2012 runner-up team. The girls were fishing with their father, Jamie, who started the Gallia Junior Bass Busters in 2005.
"Fishing is a great equalizer," says Gintert. "As High School Fishing grows, I'm confident we'll see more girls get involved because our tournaments put boys and girls together on a very equal basis. There has been zero resistance to girls joining high school teams and fishing in tournaments. Typically, the clubs that have a good number of girls in them are among the bigger clubs in the country."
One of those bigger clubs is the River Valley Youth Fishing Club in Pope County, Ark., between Fort Smith and Little Rock. Originally founded in 2006 as the Dover High School Fishing Club by Walmart FLW Tour pro Ray Scheide and his wife, Michelle, the club grew quickly to encompass members from eight other school clubs in the surrounding area.
Now there are 75 members, including five girls. Among them is the Scheides' daughter, Mikayla, a junior at Dover High School who fishes with her first cousin, Jason Wieler, a freshman, in the club's six regular-season events and three High School Fishing tournaments. In previous events she fished with Baylee Linker.
"Boys and girls are welcome in our club," says Ray. "And we don't limit it to fishing. We promote hunting and make opportunities available for that too. We want to provide our youth with positive outlets for their energy in the real world of the outdoors. All parents want their kids to stay grounded and grow up to be good people and productive citizens, but that doesn't necessarily just happen without some help."
Like Mikayla Scheide, most girls who compete in High School Fishing were first introduced to the sport not through a club or boyfriend, but by a male parent. Emily Walker's model was her father, Kevin. Jamie Caldwell, a longtime member of the Ohio Bass Federation, taught both his daughters, Haleigh and Jalea, how to fish on the Ohio River near their home. Likewise, Morgan Boggs grew up fishing Laurel River Lake in the Daniel Boone National Forest with her father, Todd Boggs. She's even fished local tournaments with her grandfather, Michael Boggs.
Gintert believes that the dearth of female mentors is likely to change in the future as more girls join High School Fishing and eventually become parents themselves. In the meantime, girls are fishing on high school teams and beginning to take advantage of opportunities that, a few years ago, would have seemed improbable at best.
"I got a phone call from Campbellsville (Ky.) University, and they're interested in me joining their fishing team," says Morgan. "I'm also looking at Eastern Kentucky University, because I know they already have a strong fishing team. But I've also got a chance at a soccer scholarship, so I'll have to make a decision when the time comes."
Last year Bethel University was the only school to offer college scholarships, but now Dallas Baptist University and Campbellsville University are providing them and actively recruiting anglers - male and female. The growth in popularity of FLW College Fishing has served as a catalyst to also promote High School Fishing and attract more participants who plan to earn a degree and hope to receive financial aid in the form of fishing scholarships.
Almost 400 high schools are involved in High School Fishing now, according to Gintert, with most of them in the traditional bass-fishing bastion of the South, but several in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic as well. Gintert expects that the number of girls involved in the program will grow exponentially to match national demographics more closely. As Ray Scheide notes, the outdoors isn't the exclusive domain of males and shouldn't be regarded as such. Anglers such as Emily Walker, Haleigh Caldwell and Morgan Boggs don't need any convincing, and are serving as the trailblazers for their gender.
"I love to fish, and I like to compete," says Emily, who also was selected as Miss Buna 2014 in a local pageant. "That's why I enjoy tournaments. I also know that in a way I'm making a statement: Girls can be just as good at fishing as boys are. A lot of girls who like to fish and who are good at it wouldn't join our club at first because they thought that they might be embarrassed having to compete against boys. But that's not so, and we're proving it."
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