Birmingham, Ala. –– They are the unsung heroes of the B.A.S.S. Nation High School program.
Without the volunteer efforts of boat captains, high school anglers would be left on the bank trying to learn how to catch bass. Boat captains must spend several hours in a boat with young anglers and resist the urge to fish, so high school coaches are challenged every year to find such special volunteers.
Chris Kuchyt has coached the Oak Lawn Community High School bass club since it joined the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) bass fishing series in 2008 and has plenty of experience recruiting boat captains. “The biggest problem is trying to find somebody who is willing to spend a whole Saturday with the kids,” said Kuchyt, whose team is also a B.A.S.S. Nation high school club. “It’s not only about Saturday but the time prepping the boat and driving it to the water. So it does take a lot of time out of a volunteer’s day to get all of that set up.”
Parents mainly provided a variety of boats to take out the Oak Lawn High anglers in the early days of the club. “It took quite a few years for my kids to fish out of a bass boat,” Kuchyt said. “We are a school on the south side of Chicago and even my boat is a deep v. We were taking all different kinds of boats that were helping out. So the kids got a quick lesson that you don’t always have to fish out of a bass boat to do well.”
Most of the Oak Lawn club’s boat captains are still parents, but Kuchyt is also starting to reap the benefits of his program’s longevity in the IHSA bass fishing series. “I have been pretty fortunate to get help from alumni who have come through the high school to bring boats back to the program,” he said. “It’s kind of giving back, if you will.”
The rapidly growing South Carolina B.A.S.S. Nation high school and middle school tournament circuits depend on family members and family friends to serve as boat captains. “The greatest thing that has happened with this (program) is to let fathers, uncles and friends be captains,” said Randy Vaughn, South Carolina youth director. “A lot of parents of 8- to 13-year-olds especially don’t want their kids going out with people they don’t know.”
Vaughn believes his program’s alignment with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Youth Bass Fishing League has helped him recruit more young anglers and boat captains. The South Carolina DNR has partnered with B.A.S.S. and The Bass Federation to start bass clubs in schools throughout the state and holds its own SC Youth Bass Fishing Championship for anglers from the B.A.S.S. and The Bass Federation youth programs.
The rewarding experience of watching young anglers catch fish is a major selling point high school coaches can use to recruit boat captains. “It is an extremely rewarding feeling,” Kuchyt said. “Dad’s cry at awards night after four years of being in the high school program and seeing these kids compete against each other. They do get emotional because they realize a chapter of their lives has passed and they realize they played a big part. It’s not like you can have a Dad on the side of a basketball court or in the dugout coaching his kid. But with fishing you actually get to do that. That is something that the father and his kid can remember for the rest of their days.”
Two-time B.A.S.S. Nation Championship qualifier Brian Maloney has experienced that rewarding feeling firsthand while serving as a boat captain for several young anglers. “It’s like being their father or grandpa when you see these kids succeed,” Maloney said. “The reward is watching the kids hook up with a fish. You see (the excitement) in their faces and that happens all day long. It is just fun to see kids that young get so excited over catching fish.”