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Bass fishing reels in competitive spirit with nature this season

Students practice for hours on end each week, working tirelessly to make the perfect catch

Fighting.

That is how freshman Max Fata describes some afternoons when on the Skokie Lagoons reeling in bass. Yet, the brawling fish motivate him to want to catch them more.

Sometimes it can get annoying when we’re not catching anything, but that’s part of the struggle.

— Tucker Kemnitz

“You have to use your strength and they try to run away,” Fata said. “You have to keep going—it’s fun doing that.”

Fata, inspired by his father and uncle to take up fishing, joined the bass fishing team at New Trier High School this season, already taking on many bass with success.

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“All the time,” Fata said, about how many times he has won “fights” against bass. (The team does not keep the fish they catch.)

The team’s season runs from late February/early March to May, and students practice four days a week after school to improve their casting accuracy, learn how to tie many types of knots, and know what to use various lures for.

“Finding fishing spots around here in Illinois is pretty tough and I thought [joining the team] would be a great help for me to find my spots and also just get better at fishing,” sophomore Ricky Ozmun, a new team member, said.

For students on the team, bass have earned a special place in their fishing skill set.

“I fished for bluegill when I first started with my dad, and then we also caught catfish too, but bass is something that is really exciting because they’re a harder-fighting fish, so they’re cool,” junior Tucker Kemnitz, a third-year team member, said.

When casting for the “cool” species, students are out on the water, not knowing what to expect from bass on any given day.

“[Bass] go for the biggest bait you throw at them, but they’ll also, depending on how things are going, go for the smallest bait you throw at them,” Ozmun said. “It’s just a big hit or miss when you send one out, whether it’s gonna be a little bass or a huge five-pounder.”

As Ozmun puts it, bass are “weird.” Yet, that does not faze students from returning to the Skokie Lagoons the next day, ready to practice for another two to three hours to master their craft. The team practices at the Northfield campus cafeteria for tryouts and when the weather is bad.

“Sometimes it can get annoying when we’re not catching anything, but that’s part of the struggle,” Kemnitz said. “We gotta keep casting and keep working at it if we’re going to catch something.”

For some team members, fishing has been in their blood for a long time.

“I’ve been fishing ever since I was a little kid, but I started to take it seriously after I went out shark fishing [in] South Carolina and actually saw what you could do with the sport,” Ozmun said.

As part of the season, the team competes at competitions, where they need to catch basses over 12 inches in size. Depending on the rules, they earn points based on the size and weight of the bass.

Kemnitz said that to make competitions fair, there are scenarios where two teams could tie, but catch a different number of fish. For example, should New Trier catch four fish, while the other team catches two, both teams would tie when the other team has half as many players as New Trier.

So far this season, head coach Steve Gagliano said that the team has performed well in shoreline and boat competitions. On April 6, the team placed first at Round Lake, with third-place finishes at Bangs and Long Lakes on April 13 and April 21, respectively.

Gagliano said the hope is for the team to get third place or better at sectionals, so they can head to state in mid-May.

When students are practicing for competitions, they do so alone sometimes, but on occasions when wrangling with tough bass, teamwork is abundant.

“A lot of the teamwork is…helping people out with actually trying to land a fish, especially…in some pretty tough terrain that can get in the way from bringing that fish onshore [or] on a boat,” Ozmun said.

Upperclassmen on the team support the underclassmen, bringing them into the loop about how they feel about New Trier.

“They like the Winnetka campus better,” Fata said.

Bass fishing team practices at sparkly Skokie Lagoons (William Karr)

As students spend countless hours at the Skokie Lagoons each week, Kemnitz enjoys the “peacefulness” that comes with it.

“Being out here—viewing nature and viewing the fish—it’s really cool and something that I really enjoy,” Kemnitz said.

Membership on the team has forced some to see the vastness of the Skokie Lagoons.

“Me and my friends…would bike out here a lot but we would really stay on the biking trail.  On the bass fishing team, this forced us to really get out and explore and find more secluded, unknown spots that will have fish,” Ozmun said.

With 14 students on the team, a mix of students from each grade, Kemnitz feels at home on the bass fishing team.

“It’s just awesome to be on the team because not many people are on it,” Kemnitz said. “It’s something special.”

This story was originally published on New Trier News on April 30, 2024.