Last weekend, high school anglers from across the state gathered at central Illinois’ Clinton Lake to battle for one of the top honors in competitive bass fishing—the Big Bass award. But the teams participating in the Illinois Bass Fishing Club High School Open walked away with a lot more than awards and prize bags. The 150-plus competitors and coaches also left with “how-to” tips for stopping aquatic invasive species (AIS) in their tracks.
AIS prevention has become a fixture at this annual tournament, one of few in the state that allow students to hone their skills and learn about ways to carry their love of bass fishing into college. During the tournament’s four-year history, IISG specialists have joined teams at the Mascoutin Recreation Area to talk about the threat of invasive species and what anglers can do to halt their spread. Frequent announcements from Illini Bass Fishing Club members each year also remind students and parents alike of the importance of “leaving the lakes better than we found them.”
“No one cares more about Illinois’ fisheries than fishermen,” said Luke Stoner, former Illini Bass Fishing Club president and tournament director. “It’s our job to keep them as healthy as we can, and that includes fighting the spread of invasive species.”
This is not the only event where conservation has taken center stage. In fact, in the last decade, groups like the Shawnee MuskieHunters and Illinois Bass Federation have expanded their interest in casting technique, water safety, and fishing etiquette to become leaders in invasive species prevention.
Tournaments and club events give young anglers a chance to practice easy steps that prevent AIS from hitchhiking to new habitats and wreaking havoc on food webs and recreation. For example, removing plants, animals, and mud from all equipment, draining all water from your boat and gear, and drying everything thoroughly with a towel after a day on the water will help keep waterways clean and healthy. Throwing any removed plants and unused bait in the trash is also a simple way to join the fight against aquatic invaders.
“To be really effective, these practices have to become routine—the first thing you do after leaving the water,” said Sarah Zack, IISG’s aquatic invasive species outreach specialist. “That’s why it is so encouraging that Illinois anglers and boaters are learning these practices early and are being encouraged to share them with their friends and family.”
Learn more about IISG’s invasive species prevention program, Be a Hero – Transport ZeroTM, at TransportZero.org.
The IISG aquatic invasive species team (AIS) kicked off their fishing tournament season with a bang earlier this week. Several members were onsite April 6 for a high school bass fishing tournament to talk with young anglers about the threat of AIS and what they can do to prevent their spread. Hosted by the Illini Bass Fishing Club, the third annual High School Open drew a record number of teams and anglers to central Illinois’ Clinton Lake.
IISG science writer Anjanette Riley joined the AIS team for the tournament and recalls the day’s events:
“If every fishing tournament this year was like the High School Open, this will be a great year for AIS outreach. During the couple hours we were onsite, Sarah Zack and Alice Denny talked with hundreds of anglers, coachers, and on-lookers from Illinois and Wisconsin.
But more than the numbers, what really made Sunday a success was people’s enthusiasm. Groups huddled around the IISG table to talk about Sea Grant, invasive species, and three easy steps to ensure invaders can’t hitch a ride to new waterbodies: remove, drain, dry. Many of these coaches said they would take the message—and the Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers giveaways—back to team members not competing that day. And frequent announcements from Luke Stoner, the Illini club president, reminded the crowd of the risks AIS pose to their sport and the importance of “leaving the lakes better than we found them.”
The day also proved successful for many of the anglers fighting to catch the most and biggest bass. The fish were hesitant to bite, but more than half of the 79 competing teams weighed in at least one. Several teams brought in bags of fish weighing more than 6 lbs. The winning duo, though, sealed their victory with two fish weighing in at 8.3lbs, and the Big Bass award went to an Edinburg-South Fork student who caught a 6.46lb largemouth bass—a true “Clinton Lake slaunch.”
These hard-working high school anglers have a full season of fishing in front of them. In fact, for many of the teams, Sunday was their first day on the water this year. And their successes at the tournament will help them qualify to compete in sectional and state competitions.
Sunday was the first of many tournaments for IISG’s AIS outreach team as well. Sarah, Alice, and others will take their message of prevention to professional and amateur tournaments across Illinois and Indiana this spring. But the annual High School Open marked a rare and important opportunity to talk with young anglers about the importance of curbing the spread of AIS.”
To learn more about AIS, visit the IISG website. And watch for our “Be a Hero – Transport Zero” campaign this summer with how-to information on basic steps to take before leaving a marina or boat ramp.
While parents, coaches, and friends gathered around to watch high school anglers show off their catch from a fishing tournament held early this week, IISG’s Sarah Zack was onsite to introduce competitors and on-lookers to simple practices that can prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS). Hosted by the Illini Bass Fishing Club, the event brought high school clubs from across Illinois to Clinton Lake on April 7 to see who could catch the most and the biggest bass. The tournament, one of few held at the high school level each year, gave IISG’s AIS outreach team an important opportunity to talk with young anglers about the threat of AIS to local waterways.
“Talking with the kids now plants that seed for future years,” said Brian Bevill, coach of the Illini Bluffs High School Bass Fishing Club.
During the few hours that IISG was onsite at Clinton Lake, Sarah talked with dozens of anglers and boaters from across Illinois. Frequent announcements from the tournament emcee also reminded the audience of the negative impacts AIS can have on the health of aquatic environments. Many of the people who visited the IISG booth had heard about Asian carp. But fewer people knew about the need to remove, drain, and dry all equipment after a day on the water. Most were also interested in learning about a new Illinois law that makes it illegal to drive with plants or mud still clinging to boats and trailers.
This High School Open is one of many fishing tournaments IISG’s AIS outreach team plans to attend this year in both Illinois and Indiana. This season especially, the team hopes to reach out to more amateur and semi-professional anglers with information about how they can prevent the spread of invasive species.
“These anglers want to make sure they’re doing their part to prevent the spread of AIS because they know that is an important part of preserving the sport of fishing for the future,” said Sarah. “It is encouraging that the message is being embraced. I was especially excited to work with the Illini Bass Fishing Club because of their commitment to AIS prevention.”
“We started this because we wanted to show kids in high school that if they care about fishing enough, and work hard enough, they can take it somewhere,” said Luke Stoner, executive administrator for the club. “What we really like to see are smiling faces and big old bass.”
This year, 134 students fought to catch the most and biggest fish. For many of the teams, the tournament marked their first day on the water this season. But after months of casting practice and learning how to “flip and pitch” the lure to trick the bass into biting, the student anglers were prepared.
Three teams brought in bags of fish weighing more than 17 lbs, and three fish came in at over 6 lbs. Their successes at this event will help students qualify to compete in sectional and state competitions slated for later this year.
“The competition in fishing is unlike any other sport,” said Kyle Sweet, a senior at Illini Bluffs High School in Glasford, IL. “In football, for example, you only play one other team at a time. Here we are competing with 67 teams and the fish at the same time.”