MOULTONBOROUGH -- The fish were biting and so were the student fishermen teams who enthusiastically signed up for the first New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association sanctioned bass fishing tournament held Thursday at Lee's Mills on Lake Winnipesaukee.
One hundred and eight high school students from 41 schools across the state paired off into two-person teams to fish off 54 boats for smallmouth and largemouth bass during the inaugural NHIAA event.
NHIAA Executive Director R. Patrick Corbin said the response to fishing as a high school sport has been phenomenal.
"This has far exceeded anything we anticipated," said Corbin. "It's been great. We've never introduced or sanctioned any activity or sport that has generated the interest than this has," he said. "If we had enough boats, we could have had 1,000 students today," said Corbin.
This year's event is a collaboration between NHIAA/Crestliner State High School Bass Fishing Tournament and is sponsored by Winnisquam Marine.
"Young fishermen and fisherwomen are passionate about their sport. I've learned so much going through this experience," Corbine said.
"Illinois started it three years ago with a few hundred kids the first year. And this year they had 4,000 kids involved," he said. "We found a lot of schools had (fishing) clubs, with 30, 40 kids in them."
Corbin said sanctioning the sport is in step with the NHIAA strategic plan to introduce more lifelong sports and sports that are accessible to handicapped or disabled students.
New Hampshire joins the state of Illinois and Kentucky in sanctioning fishing as a varsity sport. Some schools in New Hampshire, like John Stark Regional and Bishop Guertin high schools, already had fishing clubs with more than 40 students. Aside from fishing as a lifelong pastime, students will also learn about the environment, safe boating, how to properly take care of fish and the lakes as well. Volunteers from the Lakes Association and state Fish and Game assisted at Thursday's tournament.
While the event would have taken place rain or shine, many commented that it was an ideal day for fishing - the rain held off until all the boats had returned and the weigh-ins were completed.
One goal of the tournament was not to lose any fish, added Corbin. All the fish were caught, then placed in the water-filled well of the boat; from there they were carefully placed into black water-filled carrying baskets and taken to the weigh stations. The baskets were dipped into aerated water buckets while they waited their turn on the scales. The fish were only out of the water for the few seconds it took to measure their length, and then placed back into the black bag to be weighed on a scale.
The fish were then returned to the boats and set free a few hundred feet off shore.
Students such as Chris Peirce, 16, and Matt McAlister, 18, of Sunapee High School were one of two teams of fishermen from the school. Together, they netted more than 10 pounds of fish. Both students had fished since they were young and were excited to participate as part of the NHIAA sanctioned event.
"It's a competition between you and the fish," said Peirce, adding that fishing brings one back into nature. "It quiets the mind, brings you back into the flow of things," he said.
Fishing, he said, is more about getting outdoors.
Brandon Smith, 16, and Jacob Cox, of Moultonborough Academy earned a second place in the largemouth division with a combined weight of 11.86 pounds.
"They should have teams in all the schools," said Cox, affirming his support for NHIAA status.
Winnisquam Marine of Belmont, and Crestliner Boats of Brunswick, Maine, cosponsored the event. Ryan Crawford, vice president of Winnisquam Marine, said the sanctioned event helps foster young fishermen and fisherwomen.
"I love seeing new boaters and fishermen - events like these are good for the industry," he said.
He said he was also excited to see kids get into a sport he and his family love so much. As the father of three little boys, ages 5, 4, and 2, Crawford said fishing is a great family event.
Crestline Boats District Manager Brian Newell said the company jumped on the opportunity to become involved in a youth tournament event like this.
"It's a growing market," he said.
Sandra Oja, owner of North Bass Supply in Brentwood, was on hand to distribute fishing supply catalogs and coupons. Her company also runs many tournaments, including a bass fishing junior championship.
"I love to see the kids fishing. I would rather see them doing something like this than watching video games," said Oja.
The tournament results and weights will be posted on the NHIAA website, www.nhiaa.org. The top three winners in the largemouth category were Exeter High School first place, Moultonborough Academy second place and John Stark Regional High School in third email@example.com