While 24-year-old Brandon Palaniuk was hauling in his winning limits of bass in the Bassmaster Elite Series TroKar Quest on Bull Shoals, Ark., last week, a select group of high school anglers — who would like to follow in his footsteps — was enjoying a behind-the scenes tour of the tournament operation.
The youngsters were part of the inaugural B.A.S.S. High School Elite Experience designed to give future pros a taste of conducting and competing in tournaments.
B.A.S.S. owner Jerry McKinnis and High School Elite Experience coordinator Jon Stewart welcomed the group to the program, which includes instructional videos, seminars from pro anglers on site, a conference with an Arkansas fisheries biologist, special seating at the weigh-in and more.
McKinnis was the driving force behind creating the High School Experience, which will be continued with area students at the Douglas Lake Challenge in Dandridge, Tenn.
“We had about 20 kids there from all over the place,” McKinnis said of the group, which included students from Missouri and Arkansas. “This was our first event, and it gave us an idea of what we need to do in terms of growing this opportunity for kids.”
McKinnis said having mentors in the sport at this juncture in their education gives high schoolers the much-needed chance to learn about scholarship availability and tournaments they should enter to open the right doors in the sport of bass fishing.
“It’s a tremendous thing for these kids to have a chance to figure out the right way to expand opportunities in the sport, and we have the perfect teachers in our Elite group of anglers,” McKinnis said. “They are all willing to volunteer and jump in there and teach.”
Stewart, who supervised the program, said, “The kids seemed to love it. They had a ball. They loved the seminars, particularly the educational portion with the biologist Colton Dennis. They also loved rubbing elbows with the pros. They couldn’t get enough of it.”