Teenager's death inspires young anglers to work together

WEDDINGTON, N.C. — A tragic death has breathed life into the high school fishing movement in North Carolina.

Before he died in a truck accident on Jan. 20, 2012, Riley Laymon was working on a plan to start a high school bass fishing program in North Carolina. Because he was originally from Illinois where high school bass fishing is a sanctioned activity, the 17-year-old wondered why a similar program hadn’t been started in the bass fishing hotbed of North Carolina.

So Laymon wrote a letter to one of his teachers, Tom Schwartz, about how Weddington High School needed a fishing club and that he wanted to eventually have high school bass fishing sanctioned by the state. Schwartz revealed the letter to Laymon’s parents after their son’s death.

“We didn’t even know about it,” said Tom Laymon, Riley’s dad. “Mr. Schwartz said the letter told a lot about Riley in his own words. Part of his vision was the club would be a safe place for kids to be and have a lot of fun.”

Tom and Lisa Laymon found out how many different friends Riley had after the funeral. “Since then, we have 30 to 40 kids come over every other Friday night and stay until 10:30 or 11 o’clock,” said Tom Laymon.  “It is a great cross-section of kids from the jocks to the cheerleaders to the preppies and the country kids.”

In honor of their son, the Laymons along with Schwartz and Riley’s many friends bonded to form the fishing club known as “Riley’s Catch.” The club’s membership has swelled to 180 Weddington High School students, including 77 freshmen who never met Riley. Members range from novices and social anglers to hard-core fishermen.

Club members wear jerseys (originally designed by Riley) with the inscription “All I do is feesh, feesh, feesh.” Riley also designed a hoodie with the slogan of “Feesh for Lyfe.”

The club has held monthly shore fishing eventsand plans to have some boat fishing events in the future. Tom Laymon has talked to Bob Bauer, North Carolina B.A.S.S. Nation youth director, who has offered to recruit boaters to take out the Riley’s Catch kids.

Riley’s dream of a statewide fishing program is also gaining momentum. Tom Laymon said he has had conversations with the superintendent of the Union County schools, and she told him she would endorse having chapters of the Riley’s Catch program in each of the county’s 15 schools in spring 2013.