The storyline is becoming more commonplace with the maturing of the B.A.S.S. High School program. Teens seek to continue their passion for competing by joining collegiate teams, with some even recruited and offered full academic scholarships.
Mike Duarte, a 19-year-old community college freshman, is among a growing group that is giving back to the B.A.S.S. high school and college programs.
Duarte started his team at Sparrows Point High School in suburban Baltimore. The club president recently graduated and is enrolled at the Community College of Baltimore County. He plans to study business for two years and transfer to a major university. It’s too soon to tell where he might go, but his interest in tournament fishing is destined to continue.
“I will probably make the choice based on whether or not the university has a college bass fishing team,” he said.
If there is no team, it’s highly likely that Duarte will start one. That is a good sign for a program faced with the challenges of maintaining interest and recruitment as teens grow into adulthood. There are more and more Mike Duartes who are doing the same across the country.
In the meantime, Duarte has another focus.
“I wake up every morning thinking of the championship,” he said. “That’s all I’ve been thinking about lately.”
That would be the Academy Sports + Outdoors B.A.S.S. Nation Championship presented by Magellan Outdoors. Bass fishing’s premier championship is set for Nov. 17-19, on Lake Conroe in Texas.
Duarte got there as the top Maryland co-angler at the Eastern Regional held in June on Douglas Lake in Tennessee. At that event, sibling rivalry prevailed, as his brother, John, joined him in the competition. John fished as a co-angler for South Carolina, where he is enrolled at Coastal Carolina University near Myrtle Beach.
Sibling rivalry also influenced John, 21, to bring his younger brother into the high school program. As basketball and baseball athletes, it was natural for them to channel their competitive psyches into bass fishing. They are off to a good start.
The B.A.S.S. Nation youth programs ultimately get the credit for recruiting the brothers into the sport. John won the 2009 Junior Bassmaster World Championship in the 15-18 age division.
“I saw him start winning and wanted to do the same,” added Mike.
Last year, John competed in the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship presented by Bass Pro Shops. That same year, Mike represented the Sparrows Point Pointers at the Costa Bassmaster High School Championship presented by TNT Fireworks.
Both Duartes indeed like to compete, are enjoying early success and have the same ultimate goal.
“We both want to make a career out of professional bass fishing and eventually qualify for the Bassmaster Elite Series,” said Mike.
Not surprisingly, they follow and admire Jordan and Matt Lee, the brothers who attained Elite Series status by working their way up from the Auburn University fishing team.
The Duartes plan to continue fishing the B.A.S.S. Nation tournaments in their respective states. Mike already has qualified for the 2017 Maryland state team. He said he likes the new format.
“It gives more anglers the chance to make the team and be even more competitive with the goal of qualifying for the national championship.”
Mike Duarte is happy to follow in the footsteps of his older brother. After all, both have the same ultimate goal as they continue competing at the collegiate level.