Student-anglers Jack Sopel (left) and Colby Orton are veterans of the fishing club at Marble Falls High School. They're looking to challenge for the Texas High School State Championship.
JENNIFER FIERRO • STAFF WRITER
MARBLE FALLS — For these athletes, Spring Break means grabbing a fishing pole and dropping a boat in a lake — all for the chance to be the state’s best student-anglers.
Twenty students will represent the fishing club at Marble Falls High School during the Texas High School State Championship on March 19 at Sam Rayburn Lake in Jasper.
Craig Orton, who serves as the parent-sponsor of the club, said Sam Rayburn is 10 times the size of Lake LBJ. As a result, the group is leaving a few days early to familiarize themselves with the lake.
“On Lake LBJ, they have their spots,” Orton said. “(Sam Rayburn is) a disadvantage because you don’t know that lake at all.”
When the state tournament was in the Highland Lakes two years ago, about 80 boats — each with an adult captain and two student-anglers — competed. Orton said there’s a chance more boats will compete at this year’s event.
He said it takes a lot of skill to be able to catch five fish that weigh enough to win a tournament, especially when so many anglers are fishing the same lake and not allowed to use live bait.
“You have to know the hot spots and know what lures to use,” he said.
The local club has 30 students with one senior, 12 juniors, eight sophomores, nine freshmen and three eighth-graders from schools in Marble Falls, Fredericksburg and Kerrville.
Each club member will decide on a partner for this tournament, Orton said. Usually, he’ll match up experienced anglers with inexperienced members in the hopes the veterans will teach the younger students.
The club could easily have more students, Orton said, but it’s difficult to add more when there’s a limited number of boat captains who volunteer their vessel for a tournament.
The local club began in January 2011, months after Faith Academy of Marble Falls graduate Austin Ellis won the Bass Federation Texas Junior Championship.
His parents, Lorna and Bryan Ellis, used the tournament experience to create a local club. After that, it was about getting sponsors, volunteers and boat owners.
The success of that club and its willingness to play host to the state tournament in 2013 and 2014 has given other student-anglers opportunities to win state titles and scholarships, which encouraged other teams to compete.
And since the club was the only one locally of its kind five years ago, organizers welcomed any angler who wanted to compete, even if they weren’t Marble Falls High School or Faith Academy students. That included students from Lake Travis, Cedar Park/Leander, Burnet, Llano and the surrounding area.
With the Ellises passing on their knowledge of how to begin a fishing club, adults in Lake Travis and the Cedar Park/Leander area started their own.
Orton said the Marble Falls club continues to follow the same guidelines and tools Lorna and Bryan Ellis used. The biggest is securing sponsorships to ensure young people have an opportunity to excel, Orton said.
He emphasized that anglers couldn’t attend the state tournament without the help of area sponsors. As a result of their generosity, the anglers’ hotel rooms and gas stipends are taken care of.
“This is why sponsorship is so important,” he said.