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Young anglers head to state tournament

Denton’s best young anglers will hit the lake this weekend for the Texas High School Bass Association state tournament at Ray Roberts Lake.

Five two-member teams from Denton and Guyer qualified to compete against more than 200 high school teams from across the state in the two-day tournament with more than $78,000 in scholarships and prizes up for grabs.

The students are all members of the Denton school district's Bass Club, which formed in 2015 and has teams at Denton, Guyer and Braswell. Denton High teacher Rhonda Weldon said she’s loved the sport ever since her father took her fishing as a child, and she serves as the club’s sponsor.

“The first year I had one team, last year I had three, this year I had 21 between the three high schools, so it just exploded,” Weldon said.

Students in the club learn to appreciate the outdoors, Weldon said, and focus more on their grades in order to remain eligible to participate.

“I wanted them to put their phones down and get outside,” Weldon said. “It’s worked. It’s an awesome thing.”

The tournaments are organized by THSBA, a nonprofit that partners with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to conduct the competitions. Matt Tolnay is a member of the board of directors and represents the West Division.

“They learn teamwork. There’s a lot of planning that goes into it — learning the weather patterns, what lures to use based on water clarity — so there’s an educational side,” Tolnay said. “It’s an opportunity for kids to compete in a sport even though they may not be in football, baseball or the usual.”

To qualify for the state tournament, teams had to finish in the top 50 percent during the regular season, then finish in the top half of a regional tournament. Each team must find its own adult volunteer who can provide and captain the boat.

Scoring is done by taking the combined weight of the five largest fish the team catches each day, and tournament officials administer polygraph tests to the top anglers to prevent cheating. The fish are released at the end of the competition.

Guyer junior Tucker Nickells said his goal this weekend is to catch a “bag,” which is the term for the five-fish maximum for each day of the tournament that counts towards a team's total weight.

“You have to give 110 percent effort or you’re not going to make it. You have to have confidence,” Nickells said.

Nickells said he’s been fishing as long as he can remember.

“No one bothers me when I’m fishing,” Nickells said. 

While the tournament is a competition, Denton sophomore Bret Sorrells said his goal is to “catch a lot of fish and have a good time doing it.”

“I’ve gotten a lot closer with the guys in here than I thought I would,” Sorrells said.” I became more social because of this club.”

The Denton teams have somewhat of a home-field advantage with the tournament being held at Ray Roberts, where the anglers already know their favorite spots on the lake to reel in their catches.

“We need to just stick to the spots that we know, fish like we know how to,” Sorrells said.

The first-place team wins a $20,000 scholarship. The next 20 finishers receive scholarships of lesser amounts, and teams finishing 22nd through 40th win prizes including fishing gear and gift cards.

The final weigh-in, ceremony and headquarters for the tournament will be at Sanger High School. Tolnay said spectators are invited to attend. Boats must come out of the water at 4:30 p.m. Sunday.

Also competing are Guyer students Clay Beeler, Chris Beeler, Bryce Hawk, Michael King and Tyler Barton and Denton's Tony Falcinelli, Nik Mazy and Robert Reyes.