Anglers heading to High School Fishing National Championship in La Crosse
Six student anglers will be departing for La Crosse, Wisconsin, Saturday afternoon to take part in the High School Fishing World Finals and National Championship.
Three teams of two, Griffin Thompson and Thomas Lundell, Will Utpadel and Caden Stevens, and Ian Latham and Jaeger Larson, all earned their spots in the national championship by qualifying at various tournaments last summer.
Utpadel and Stevens won the state championship last August in Red Wing, while Latham and Larson came in fourth place, qualifying both teams for the national championship. Thompson and Lundell qualified for the national championship in July by finishing third place in a Fishing League Worldwide high school open in Wabasha.
Jason Howland, coach of the Albert Lea Anglers and one of the adult captains who will be accompanying one of the teams in the boat, said he is excited for the anglers to get an opportunity in the tournament.
“This is the first time that I know of that it’s been here in our backyard,” Howland said. “Typically the tournament is down south. I think last year it was at Pickwick Lake in Alabama — it’s been there several years. It’s really a great opportunity for our kids to compete on a national level against some of the best young anglers in the country right here in our backyard.”
The tournament is a combined event featuring the 11th annual High School Fishing World Finals and the National Championship Finals. All teams there will be competing in the world finals, but only the select qualified teams will be competing in the national championship. All three Albert Lea teams will be competing in both.
“My goal for the tournament is to catch a limit every day,” Utpadel said. “Also, I would love to make it to Saturday since Friday is cut day and where most people will be done fishing for the week. I am excited for many reasons but most of all to get out and go fishing. I’m also excited to be in another big tournament over on the Mississippi River, where we did so well last year.”
The teams will fish for both largemouth and smallmouth bass. All teams will fish on both Wednesday and Thursday, looking to make the cut into the next rounds. After fishing on Thursday, all teams’ top three fish will be weighed and totaled. Based on the weights, the top two teams from each state advance into the semifinals on Friday. The top 10 teams that also qualified for the national championship will move into Friday’s finals. All teams that did not advance into either the world championship semifinals or the national championship finals enter the second chance round and will fish again on Friday.
On Friday, all weights are zeroed and everyone starts with a fresh round. In the world championship semifinals, the top 10 teams from Friday advance into Saturday’s finals. Ten additional teams will advance to the finals, picked from the next best finishers in the combined pool of semifinalists and anglers in the second chance round. In the national championship finals, the three-day combined weight will determine the first-place finisher. Each member of the winning team in the national championship will receive a $5,000 scholarship to their school of choice. All 10 teams in the national championship finals also advance into Saturday’s finals. One lucky team will also be randomly drawn Friday night to enter Saturday’s finals.
The weights are all zeroed again Saturday morning, and the 31 teams still in the tournament compete for the world champions title.
According to the Student Angler Foundation website, nearly $3 million in scholarships and prizes are up for grabs, including multiple scholarships, laptops, gift cards, TVs and other electronics, rods, reels, tackle, props, trolling motors and more.
Stevens said his goal is just to have fun, while still hoping to place high.
“My main goal for the tournament is have fun and give it my all,” Stevens said. I hope we can place high, but I’m just going to go out there and give it my all and hope it’s enough.”
Howland said he expects about 300 teams in total to be at the tournament. Larson said he is excited to be a part of such a big event.
“I am looking forward to hanging out with the team for a week and fishing for a couple days in the tournament,” Larson said. “With about 300 boats involved it’s a pretty big tournament. I’m just trying to have fun.”
Practice begins on Sunday and continues through Tuesday, allowing teams to get a feel for the body of water and the spots they want to fish. Howland, along with Tony Stevens and Justin Bolinger, will be the in-boat captains with the teams.
“My goals for the tournament are first off to come out of practice with confidence in our plan and second to be able to maximize on three big bites every day, as this is a tournament with a three-fish limit,” Latham said. “I’m definitely ready to get back up on the stage. I love the energy, and of course it’s going to be fun getting away for a week and stay with all the guys.”
The boats will be outfitted with cameras and filmed for television at a later date on the Pursuit Channel. The weigh-ins will be livestreamed on the Student Angler Federation – High School Fishing Facebook page as well as highschoolfishing.org.