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It’s cool to be a bass angler

While our Elite event may be the focus of the Zippo BASSfest at Kentucky Lake presented by A.R.E. Truck Caps, there are some other events going on here that I find very fascinating.

We’ve got the Carhartt College Wild Card presented by Bass Pro Shops and the 2015 Bassmaster High School All-American Fishing Team competing on nearby Lake Barkley.

I’ve said this before and I want you to take notice – this college and high school competition program may be the greatest thing to happen to our sport in all of the years I’ve been involved.

When I was these kids’ ages, my only route to competitive fishing was to join an adult bass club. I’m grateful for the opportunity those men gave me and I learned a lot from them.

But here’s the thing...it wasn’t cool to be in a bass club as a teenager. Many of my friends were playing stick-and-ball sports and fishing wasn’t considered a true sport.

Well, believe me, that has changed. This rapidly growing collegiate program has added legitimacy to competitive angling among our youths. It means something to these kids to say they are part of a college team, to wear their school colors and to gain bragging rights over arch rival schools.

There’s a lot of pride involved. And rightfully so.

Also, the success of the collegiate program has sparked tremendous interest at the high school level where prep fishing clubs are growing by leaps and bounds.

Regardless of where I go in this country, I’m approached by high school and college anglers who are eaten up with the sport. Their enthusiasm, passion and eagerness for competitive bass fishing is refreshing and a sign we’ll see continued growth in competitive bass fishing for years to come.

We’re already seeing it become a feeder system for pro level sports. Matt and Jordan Lee, who came through the college program, are fishing professionally here at BASSfest.

One huge benefit of the youth programs is it’s attracting young men and women who have never fished before. When I was growing up, we learned from our parents, uncles or grandfathers. Today’s parents are so busy with work and other activities that the tradition of passing along outdoor skills to the next generation has diminished.

The college kids with limited fishing experience are attracted to the team concept, either through buddies who compete or through social media outlets. They realize they don’t have to be a specific physical size or have impressive athletic talents to be competitive.

The sponsors are stepping up, too. Give Carhartt and other national sponsors a lot of credit for throwing their support behind the collegiate program when it was in its infancy. They saw the growth potential.

Sure there’s a lot of money and valuable points at stake on the professional side of BASSfest. But these college and high school programs are integral parts of it and will become even bigger in the future.

I’ve always thought fishing was cool. Now that we’ve drawn thousands of equally passionate young people into it, it’s even cooler!

Remember, it’s all about the attitude!