LAKE WYLIE — They’re a cast of characters. They’re ambitious. They know they’re good. And they’re biting at every chance to prove it.
York County High School Anglers is part team, part shared passion. The dozen-member squad is almost entirely from Clover High School’s sophomore class.
Turner Parnell comes from Nation Ford High School in Fort Mill, and there are members from Charlotte and Greenville. Junior team members come from Oakridge and Clover middle schools, and a girl from Gold Hill Middle School joined after meeting the team at last month’s Mid-Atlantic Boat Show in Charlotte.
Teams are open to boys and girls – anyone age 9-18 willing to meet up and fish. “We’ll take everybody,” said coach Clyde Gibson.
Some have boats, and some ride along with them. Some grew up fishing with dads or uncles. Some started when a classmate got them hooked.
“I just started fishing because my grandpa was big into it,” said Parnell, who searched tackle shops on the Internet before finding Lake Wylie Bait & Tackle, then his Clover cohorts.
The commonality is, all members found the lure to competitive fishing, and struck. Fishing even finds its way into their schoolwork. So when Tyler Brown heard talk of fishing not being a sport, he compared arm stress of pitches on the baseball diamond to casts on the lake.
The team formed three years ago but only this year received school district sponsorship in Clover. There’s no cost or liability for the district. Parents provide boats and pay for trips. Ellie Carnes, mother of team member Chris, got the reel rolling when she looked into ways to foster what her son loved.
“From there we learned that there were different stages of youth fishing,” she said.
Because no other local schools have a team, the Clover-based squad can bring in anglers from Fort Mill, York, Rock Hill or other spots nearby.
Another oddity among high school teams is the York County squad’s coach. Other state powerhouses – Abbeville, Dixie, Laurens and Broome among them – often have pro anglers as coaches. The local group has a football coach.
Gibson agreed to sponsor the team when a group of students petitioned his wife, their seventh grade teacher, for help. Gibson doesn’t tell tales on how well he fishes.
“I don’t,” he said. “I just show them where the fish aren’t.”
Another contrast to teams statewide is the reason why York County students fish. Several members want to go pro, and often fish local or regional tournaments fielding big-time bass anglers. Sometimes, they even win money.
If South Carolina recognizes fishing as a varsity sport, something it’s only a few squads from being able to do, the money tournaments could make anglers ineligible for another main goal — college scholarships. Not to mention a varsity season would have the group fishing less than it currently does making its own schedule.
“We’re probably the only high school in the state that doesn’t want it to become a varsity sport,” said Ellie Carnes.
Team members fish the local Thursday night series and big events like the annual CS Motorsports tournament. They fish all manner of weekend events, including stops on the North Carolina Bass Fishing League, South Carolina Federation Trail and Carolinas Bass Challenge circuits.
There’s a monthly team tournament, and most team members are part of several other fishing clubs. The squad also has a state youth and high school championship, and an individual championship coming up in May.
A team of two anglers finished 13th last year in a high school world tournament. Two anglers will go this year, too. At this year’s high school state event March 1, pairs from York County finished third, sixth and seventh out of about 40 boats.
Brown and Chad Matthews finished third out of 67 boats at the March 8 at a state event on Lake Russell, qualifying them for a larger fall event in Tennessee. Justin Grigg and Trevor Underwood won a North Carolina event in December, on Lake Norman. The top six team members get a ride to the May individual championship.
It isn’t all success for the team, with members swapping stories of catching muskrats, or the gar on Lake Murray. One unfortunate cast caught an osprey.
“I didn’t get it into the boat,” Chris Carnes said.
Some members are fishing more for fun, while others evaluate colleges based on proximity to lakes or varsity fishing teams. Occasionally an event will force Gibson to chose who competes, but with regular team tournaments and a full schedule, everyone gets a chance.
“Whoever wants to fish is going to fish,” Chris Carnes said.
John Marks • 803-831-8166