When a friend suggested 10 years ago that Gene Hoover consider taking the job of youth director with the Louisiana B.A.S.S. Nation, it seemed like a good fit.
After all, Hoover was a dedicated angler who fished in Nation tournaments throughout the Bayou State, and he had a proven ability to work with kids, serving as a math and science teacher and eventually an administrator in Louisiana public schools since 1980.
A decade of unquestioned dedication later, Hoover has decided it’s the right time to let someone else take the wheel as youth director.
Hoover, 62, will step down after the 2020 season with plans to spend more time with family and also to fish, something he hasn’t had much time to do over the past decade. His son lives in Germany, and Hoover and his wife, Joan, want to visit more when the coronavirus pandemic makes such trips possible. Hoover also has a captain’s license. He guides saltwater fishing trips out of Delacroix, which is one of those magical spots where anglers can boat bass at one spot and then motor a very short way to hook redfish and speckled trout at another.
The lure of family and fishing are the only two things that could pull Hoover away from his post as Louisiana B.A.S.S. Nation Youth Director. He’ll remain as the group’s tournament director for its East Division, meaning he’ll help organize three tournaments a year beginning in 2021, rather than the 10 events he’s managed the past 10 years.
Tommy Abbott, who has been heavily involved with social media for Louisiana youth tournaments, will serve as the state’s new youth director.
“Being the director is a full-time proposition,” Hoover said. “But B.A.S.S. has been great to me and just great to work with.”
Youth tournaments were much smaller when Hoover began his decade-long run directing them in Louisiana.
In 2011, he said most events had 20, maybe 30 kids competing. Today, it’s not uncommon to have several hundred young anglers take part. The success came in part because of the national effort to grow youth participation in the sport, but it was aided by the barnstorming tours Hoover made with state Juniors Director Jim Breaux, who along with wife Cindy, also are fixtures around Louisiana tournaments.
“My wife and I, Jim and Cindy, we traveled all over the state,” Hoover said. “We’d get an inquiry via email saying ‘We're thinking about starting a bass fishing team at the high school. What do we do? How we do it?’
“We’d schedule a parent meeting, wherever it was, and we told them about getting a team going, how to solicit sponsors,” he said. “When they got started, we were always trying to help them improve.”
Hoover said as principal of Lutcher (La.) High School from 2006-13, he made contacts in high school administrations throughout the state. Those principals and athletic directors were receptive to the idea of starting bass fishing clubs at their schools, and Hoover was eager to share the info they needed.
“I was on the executive committee with the Louisiana High School Athletic Association which allowed me to pitch the idea,” Hoover said. “Most were really receptive. And it didn’t hurt that the first national (high school) champions, Alex Heintze and Justin Watts, were from Louisiana. It really took off here after that.”
That win for the Livingston Parish Bassmasters duo certainly was a high-water mark for Louisiana youth bass fishing. The state remains among the best-represented at the national level each year, with 22 teams set to compete in October in the Mossy Oak Fishing Bassmaster High School National Championship presented by Academy Sports + Outdoors.
Another three teams from Louisiana will compete in the Mossy Oak Fishing Bassmaster Juniors National Championship. Hoover will be at both events and is hoping for a send-off victory from one of his teams.
Hank Weldon, tournament director for B.A.S.S. College, High School and Junior Series, said that success wouldn’t have come as quickly without Hoover.
“Being the state youth director is so much more than running tournaments,” Weldon said. “They deliver our national message at the state level and share the B.A.S.S. vision. They also have the freedom to shape a few things, because every state is different, and the directors recognize their state’s own unique needs.
“Gene did that as well as anybody,” Weldon said. “His passion for working with kids and for bass fishing speaks for itself.”
Hoover said the pleasure has been his, which is why he’ll continue his involvement as a tournament director with the Louisiana B.A.S.S. Nation.
“I’ll miss the relationships you make with people around the state while you’re out there,” he said. “The kids, the parents, all the people I’ve met have just been super. It’s not too often you can say things like that about an entire group, but you can with this one. These are people you just really want to know.”