Indiana Insurance Agent Promoting High School Fishing Clubs

Helping youth find their way onto lakes to fish. That’s what John Albertson, an insurance agent in Bloomington and youth director for Indiana B.A.S.S., is trying to accomplish.

He’s actively seeking students from high schools across Indiana who want to start fishing clubs.

As he helps with the fledgling clubs, he’s been surprised at how many of the students who sign up for the clubs have never fished before.

“It opened my eyes,” Albertson told The Herald-Times, adding, “Some of these kids have never fished before.”

That’s not the case with Albertson’s children. His son, Blake, and daughter Abby have not only fished but took part in the B.A.S.S. High School Invitational in Decatur, Ala., in July. The Albertson youth were both members of the fishing club at Bloomington High School South, the first school in Indiana and the second in the nation to form a B.A.S.S. club.

B.A.S.S. stands for Bass Anglers Sportsmen Society. Bloomington South has 30 members in its club, established in February of last year.

The fishing clubs are a new avenue for B.A.S.S. to try and recruit youth to begin bass fishing in tournaments. Before the clubs were established through the professional program, B.A.S.S. had what it called junior programs for students ages 11-14 and 15-18. But there weren’t many participants. In Indiana, there were about 10 high school students who joined.

According to B.A.S.S., the new format will also include a chance for individual states to also form junior bass clubs for anglers younger than 14 years old. In the new format, the program for the younger students will be weighted toward education and fun family-oriented activities, while the high school program will place more emphasis on competition. The format change will also allow winning high school teams to advance to the adult divisional and national contests.

With the new club structure, Albertson has helped establish clubs at Martinsville, Brown County, Wabash Valley and Eastern Greene high schools. The clubs are part of the B.A.S.S. High School Nation, a new program offering camaraderie, competition, education and conservation programs to the students.

With the change in programs, there are many more interested students. Each high school has to set up its own fishing club and provide boats so its members can fish in various lakes.

At Bloomington South, there are currently enough family members willing to lend their boats to the program for all its members to take to the water for the various clinics and contests.

“Every kid has the ability to fish, as long as there’s a boat, they can fish a tournament,” Albertson said.

Before that happens, though, Albertson is out visiting high schools across Indiana, trying to get more high schools to establish fishing clubs.

“What it takes is one child who calls me and says, ‘Hey, we’d be interested,”‘ Albertson said. The cost to the student is $20 to join B.A.S.S. After the club is formed and the students pay their dues, B.A.S.S. will give the club a $1 million liability insurance policy to cover them during all their events.

Nick Halter, the fishing coach at Bloomington South, said students were interested in forming a fishing club before Albertson visited the school.

“A student came to me two years ago to see if we could start up a fishing club,” Halter said. By the time Halter had received approval from the school, Albertson was inquiring about the B.A.S.S. club.

“It took off from there,” Halter said, adding that there are girls and boys in the club. Some of the students had fished almost daily and some had fished only one or two times before joining.

During this first year, Halter said, it’s been the paperwork that’s been the most difficult part. But that is getting easier, he added. And he gets lots of help from the students.

“I delegate to the kids what needs to be done for the club,” Halter said. “They not only show up for the meetings but they’re running this club.”

Halter said the South club also has dedicated parents and adults willing to give time, money and boats to help out.

“The kids and the parents have been great about this. There are no problems with them (the parents) letting the kids go out on boats.”

At this time, Halter said, the club is fully funding itself, something few clubs are doing at the school. Parents donate much of the equipment needed and the club has sponsors who help with the rest.

Halter said he’s also received help from some parents who don’t have students involved in the club but still want to help out.

And the club has helped teachers at South get to see another side of the students, away from the classroom. “They get a kick out of that,” he said.

Also fishing in the July B.A.S.S. High School Invitational in Decatur was the Hoosier team from Wabash Valley Bassmasters fishing club in Tippecanoe. At the end of the tourney, Beau Ashcraft and Shawn Zellers of the Wabash Valley club had caught five fish for a total weight of 13 pounds, 2 ounces. That was enough to put them in fourth place.

Because they finished in the top 10, the Wabash Valley duo will now go to the B.A.S.S. master classic for adult anglers in February 2014, when they will fish in the high school exhibition. “ESPN will cover them just like the pros,” Albertson said.

In B.A.S.S. tournaments, teams consist of two anglers. For the high school teams, there is also a captain who mans the boat and coaches the two fishing the waters.

“He’s really helping advise the kids while they’re on the water,” Albertson explained.

For Indiana teams, there have been four high school invitationals this year, with the last Aug. 24 at Lake Monroe.

All of the Indiana tournaments cost $10 per team. There’s also a championship tournament. The championship costs $40 per team.

This coming year will be the first B.A.S.S. national high school championship, and Albertson is hoping some of the Hoosier clubs will be represented at the three-day event. Only the top six teams will fish the final day of the tournament, which is the day ESPN2 will cover the event. Another incentive is that the winners will receive a college scholarship.

The top two teams from the national high school championship will advance to the high school national tournament next July.

And the top high school team from Indiana will become part of Indiana’s men’s B.A.S.S. fishing team during the 2014 northern divisional tournament. The high school students will fish for two days of the tournament and the weight of the fish they catch will be added in the state weight, Albertson said.

Albertson’s ultimate goal is to have 150 students competing in the state tournament within eight years.