MANY, LOUISIANA – There’s a youth movement afoot in Minnesota, and it came south some 1,000 miles this week to flex its muscle in the Academy Sports + Outdoors B.A.S.S. Nation Central Regional presented by Magellan Outdoors.
Five of Minnesota’s 10 non-boaters competing on Toledo Bend Reservoir are teenagers; four of them are still in high school. And while a fresh-faced hot stick is nothing new in the sport of bass fishing, it’s impressive that half of Minnesota’s team is not only 19 or younger, but that four of them are atop Minnesota’s team standings after Day 1 of competition.
Mason Raveling, a high school senior, is 30th of 190 non-boaters competing in the non-boater division with two bass weighing 8 pounds, 8 ounces. Matt Stearns, a freshman on the Winona State University bass fishing team, is 32nd with a three-bass limit of 8-0.
Nathan Thompson, is 52nd with three bass weighing 6-15 and Dominic Floria is 57th with a limit of 6-12. Ben Provost is tied for 127th overall, and is alone in fifth place on his state team with one bass for 3-6.
All are 18 years old, except Stearns who is 19.
Their Day 1 catches might not be eye-popping, but consider: the top three boaters and non-boaters from each of the 19 states competing this week will survive today’s cut and fish in a greatly-reduced field on Friday. The top boater and non-boater from each state then will advance to the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship which will be held later this year on an undisclosed date and fishery.
The top 38 anglers not included in that number also will fish Friday, which means there’s a chance that each of Minnesota’s young guns could be fishing for an individual state championship.
“What these guys are doing is incredible,” said Minnesota B.A.S.S. Nation President Peter Perovich. “They’re making us all proud. And they really are good anglers, all of them.”
Perovich said Minnesota B.A.S.S. Nation leaders saved spots for the top 25 high school anglers in the state B.A.S.S. Nation Championship held on Mille Lacs last August.
The youngsters were up to the task.
Stearns won the non-boater division, while Thompson was second, Floria fourth, Raveling sixth and Provost eighth. That locked up spots for each of them in this regional, but also gave them a chance to help their state win a $40,000 Triton/Mercury boat/motor package. And individually, it gave them a shot at fishing the Nation Championship and possibly even the 2019 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods.
“With the explosion in numbers in our youth programs, we decided for the first time to qualify the top high school anglers for our state championship,” Perovich said. “Each of them fished with adult boaters. It was a way of mentoring them. We knew we wanted to stay with these kids now and into the future, because they are our future.
“There’s a whole lot of competition for the spots, too, but these guys earned their places,” he said. “They did all the work on their own and they’re continuing it here.”
Stearns said he feels no anxiety in this tournament, even with what’s at stake.
“It helps with the nerves that I’ve grown with the sport at home,” he said. “Youth fishing has been so successful; it’s nothing to have 150 or 200 boats at a high school tournament in Minnesota. So this is just like any other tournament for me.”
Raveling said he’s fished for bass as long as he can remember, but it was the B.A.S.S. Nation that hooked him up with Provost, with whom he won a high school state championship when both were freshmen. He’s since fished in two high school national championships and qualified for a third this summer.
“(Bigger competitions) used to intimidate me, but not now,” Raveling said. “I like to be involved. People ask me all the time how to start a club team at their school. That makes us feel like we’re doing is getting noticed.”
Raveling is considering fishing for a college team, though Provost said he’s decided on a small trade school that has no team. Still, he said he certainly will continue with competitive fishing as long as he can.
“Oh yeah, I’ll definitely keep fishing,” Provost said. “Anybody can learn to do it, and it’s something you can do your whole life.”
What makes Perovich and the rest of the Minnesota B.A.S.S. Nation happiest is that their willingness to share the love of bass fishing apparently is contagious.
“I love to teach younger kids how to fish,” Provost said. “I can’t wait until I have a chance to do more of that.”