DECATUR, Ala. — Talented high school anglers from across the U.S. gathered for the inaugural Abu Garcia Bassmaster High School Combine on Wheeler Lake in Decatur, Ala., for a weekend combining skills challenges and recruiting visits in hopes of reeling in college fishing offers. After three challenges — Casting Distance, Knot Tying and Casting Accuracy — the combine’s overall points winner was Levi Thibodaux of Thibodaux, La.
Thibodaux edged out second-place finisher Jeremy Radford of Huntly, Va., by just four points and notes that the deciding factor in his performance was consistency throughout each of the three disciplines.
“(Leading up to the combine) I practiced evenly in every category prior to the event,” said Thibodaux. “You can ask anyone who has ever won an Angler of the Year title or multiple-day event, constancy in the sport of bass fishing is the key that separates luck from skill.
“I'm not one to be overconfident, I'm just thankful I got the chance to attend this event and be a part of this inaugural combine. I'm ready to start my career in college and see how I stack up against those guys. Fishing is my passion and being around others that share that passion is an incredible feeling.”
Thibodaux was also one of several anglers who signed with colleges during the weekend, inking an offer to fish for the Louisiana State University Shreveport Pilots and Coach Charles Thompson.
“By Sunday morning, my decision was clear,” said Thibodaux. “LSUS was the perfect fit for me. The recent standings prove that the LSUS program is headed in the right direction, and with a coach like Mr. Charles they will continue to see success. I'm glad that I'll get a chance to make my mark on the program, and I am proud to fish on the collegiate level and represent my home state of Louisiana.”
Awards were also handed out to each of the skills challenge discipline winners. Justin Frey of Landisburg, Pa., took home the victory in Casting Accuracy with a perfect score of 50 completed in 1 minute 22 seconds. Kyle Smith of Richland, Mich., won the Knot Tying technical challenge, completing the discipline in 1 minute 16 seconds with a perfect score of 50. It took a tiebreaker for Lane King of Harrison, Ark., to take home the trophy for Casting Distance. After the first round of competition, King and Thibodaux went head-to-head to determine a winner.
Just like in a tournament, weather played a factor in testing the anglers’ skills as winds over 15 mph buffeted Ingalls Harbor where the event was taking place.
“I like that the wind was a factor; it added some real-world factors to the events,” said King. “The main thing for the casting competitions was to cast the bait into the wind from the side of the target in order to let the wind carry the bait back. My first long throw was timed perfectly where the wind died down just enough for me to bomb the cast. I had to play the wind exactly right to get my casting in bounds. The best way for me to get the long cast was to sweep the rod from behind around to the right of my body to keep it as close to the ground as possible.”
In addition to the three skills challenges, anglers spent portions of the weekend meeting with college coaches. After the first day, colleges could select anglers for a “second look” to further explore everything that angler has to offer and see if they would be the perfect fit for their fishing program.
“I connected with two universities during the combine that both have fantastic programs at an elite level,” said Frey. “What separated them the most in my mind was that both coaches were awesome, caring individuals. I was ecstatic and very blessed to sign with an athletic scholarship from Bethel University thanks to Coach Garry Mason. I can’t wait to get started; it’s been a dream come true.”
Prior to the combine, Frey was not being recruited by Bethel University, which was the first college in America to offer bass fishing scholarships and has claimed 11 national titles.
Only colleges offering bass fishing scholarships were invited to attend and a full recap of commitments and scholarship offers is expected at a later date.
For more information on the 2022 Abu Garcia Bassmaster High School Combine as it becomes available, visit Bassmaster.com/high-school.
Abu Garcia Bassmaster High School Combine Points Totals
|Casting Accuracy||Knot Tying||Long Cast||Total Points|
|1||Levi Thibodaux||Thibodaux, LA||50||50||53||153|
|2||Jeremy Radford||Huntly, VA||50||50||49||149|
|3||Zach Wolfe||Mokena, IL||50||50||48||148|
|3||Max Muzones||Lindenhurst, IL||50||50||48||148|
|5||Kai Barnett||Wilsonville, AL||50||50||46||146|
|5||Cole Moulton||Enfield, NH||50||50||46||146|
|7||Reece Keeney||Hortonville, WI||50||50||43||143|
|7||Tyler Morris||Port Allen, LA||50||50||43||143|
|9||Matt Boerboom||Inver Grove Heights, MN||50||50||41||141|
|9||Hudson Choquette||Headland, AL||50||50||41||141|
|9||Blake Wheat||Evensville, TN||50||50||41||141|
|9||Andrew Blanton||Chesnee, SC||50||50||41||141|
|13||Braden McNamara||Marysville, OH||50||50||40||140|
|14||Nathan Fiant||Delaware, OH||50||50||35||135|
|15||Ethan Stant||Dover, DE||45||50||39||134|
|15||Aaron McGill||Canton, OH||40||50||44||134|