LaChance pays it forward

Coach Chad LaChance (right) with Ryan Wood and Turner Mason.

Chad LaChance was born with a passion for fishing and no one to teach him how.

“I was the only child of a single mom, and we didn’t have any money,” he explains. “I grew up in South Florida, and to entertain me, Mom would take me to a bay and I would catch crabs and shrimp for bait and then catch fish.”

LaChance would grow up to become a successful fishing guide, tournament angler and, for the last eight years, host of the “Fishful Thinker” television show on WFN.

But in a very real and heartfelt way, one of his most meaningful accomplishments is mentoring young Ryan Wood, helping him to become one of the nation’s most successful high school anglers. With LaChance as their coach, Wood and Turner Mason, both of Fort Collins, Colo., outfished nearly 350 of America’s best high school anglers to win the Costa Bassmaster High School Championship on Kentucky Lake in August.

Wood, who also won the Junior Bassmaster Championship in 2013, is a member of the 2015 Bassmaster High School All-American Fishing Team. He’ll be attending Dallas Baptist University on a fishing scholarship while Mason will be competing with the Colorado State University bass fishing program.

Like LaChance, Wood had a passion for fishing and no one to help him — until LaChance came along.

“I was doing a fishing demonstration at an International Sportsmen’s Expo, and I asked for questions. Ryan’s mom raised her hand and said, ‘My son wants to be a professional angler. How does he do that?’” Wood was only 9 years old when LaChance agreed to help the youngster. They fished their first tournament together a year later, and Wood outfished his own age group as well as the one above him.

From then on, LaChance and Wood fished together at every opportunity, winning way more than their share of tournaments. As high schoolers, Wood and Mason won two state championships en route to claiming the national championship.

While neither Wood’s nor Mason’s parents fished at first, two other high school standouts were born into fishing families.

Dailus Richardson and Trevor McKinney of Benton, Ill., finished third in the championship on Kentucky Lake, amassing 46 pounds, 5 ounces for three days of fishing.

This was not their first fishing rodeo. Fishing with their dads, Jeremy Richardson and Mike McKinney, each had won team tournaments by the time they entered first grade.

The pair qualified for the high school championship through all five different routes, including winning the 2016 Bassmaster Classic high school exhibition tournament and the Midwest Regional in Clinton, Ill., and finishing high in three other High School Opens.

They were shoo-ins for the 2016 Bassmaster High School All-American Fishing Team. Each followed a different path to the pinnacle of high school fishing, but all are hooked on the sport.

Having attended high school tournaments and getting to know some of the youngsters and their parents, I am convinced the Bassmaster program, as well as trails run by other organizations, is doing more to grow the sport than any other activity I’ve seen in decades of covering bass fishing.

Some argue that high school tournaments mainly involve the children of avid anglers — kids who would become involved in fishing regardless. Wood and Mason belie that.

And Jeremy Richardson, who has become an advocate for youth fishing, says high school clubs attract many kids who have no other avenue to learn and practice the sport.

“Over the past six to eight years, of all the kids fishing the same tournaments we do, I’d say only a quarter of the kids have a parent or grandparent or other family member that takes them,” he says. “Close to 75 percent of the boat captains are volunteers and bass club members who provide their boats and offer their time to get the kids on the water.

“This is the future of the sport and I’d like to see more people really get serious about it.”

Me, too. Coaches will tell you it’s as rewarding for them as it is for their students.

As LaChance told me, “I have no kids of my own, so I just borrow theirs every so often. It’s worked out pretty good for me!”

Many anglers talk about “giving back” to the sport. LaChance and others like him are paying it forward.

Originally appeared in Bassmaster Magazine Sept./Oct. 2016.