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Fishing for Success

New Hampshire High School Teams Take to the Water

  • The Kearsarge bass fishing team puts in its last 45 minutes during the NHIAA Bass Fishing Tournament on Lake Winnipesaukee in Moultonborough, on Sept. 26, 2013.  On the boat casting is Tim O'Neill, left, Ben LaPrade, center, and coach Scott Fitzgerald. Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

    The Kearsarge bass fishing team puts in its last 45 minutes during the NHIAA Bass Fishing Tournament on Lake Winnipesaukee in Moultonborough, on Sept. 26, 2013. On the boat casting is Tim O'Neill, left, Ben LaPrade, center, and coach Scott Fitzgerald. Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »

  • Newport High School coach John Hooper lifts a bass into a bag held by Cody Hodgdon, one of the members on the school's bass fishing team. New Hampshire teams were competing in the NHIAA Bass Fishing Tournament on Lake Winnipesaukee in Moultonborough, N.H. on Thursday. Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

    Newport High School coach John Hooper lifts a bass into a bag held by Cody Hodgdon, one of the members on the school's bass fishing team. New Hampshire teams were competing in the NHIAA Bass Fishing Tournament on Lake Winnipesaukee in Moultonborough, N.H. on Thursday. Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »

  • The Kearsarge bass fishing team puts in its last 45 minutes during the NHIAA Bass Fishing Tournament on Lake Winnipesaukee in Moultonborough, on Sept. 26, 2013.  On the boat casting is Tim O'Neill, left, Ben LaPrade, center, and coach Scott Fitzgerald. Valley News - Jennifer Hauck
  • Newport High School coach John Hooper lifts a bass into a bag held by Cody Hodgdon, one of the members on the school's bass fishing team. New Hampshire teams were competing in the NHIAA Bass Fishing Tournament on Lake Winnipesaukee in Moultonborough, N.H. on Thursday. Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

Moultonborough, n.h. — Reel ’em in and weigh ’em up — bass fishing is officially a high school sport in New Hampshire.

The NHIAA on Thursday hosted its first state bass fishing tournament, drawing 59 anglers from 32 schools to Lake Winnipisaukee.

The event, a qualifier for a championship tournament on Winnisquam Lake on Oct. 4, saw fishermen spend four hours casting and reeling — with mixed success — on a sun-splashed day on the Granite State’s largest lake.

With up to eight small- or large-mouth bass allowed to be weighed, the top 11 teams advanced to the championship round. That included the boat ridden by Derrick Pare and Cody Hodgdon of Newport High, whose five fish combined to weigh 9.03 pounds.

Exeter High — which also championed last spring’s trial tournament at the same site — won with an aggregate 11.83 pounds, followed by Kingswood (11.11) and Milford (10.99).

Sunapee’s Chris Harrington and Kaleb Corbett just missed qualifying, the Lakers’ 6.25 pounds a half-pound less than 11th-place Bishop Brady.

Kearsarge’s Ben LaPrade and Tim O’Neil missed the cut, their pair of fish weighing 3.92 pounds, while the boat ridden by Stevens’ Nick Stefan and Richard Sprano came up empty.

With the help of NHIAA Executive Director Pat Corbin, Kearsarge athletic director Scott Fitzgerald pitched the idea for sanctioned high school fishing to the council last year. Much like Fitzgerald’s idea to add bowling as a New Hampshire high school sport five years ago as the Stevens’ AD, the success of implementing fishing was met with its share of skepticism. But both have proven viable alternatives to traditional team athletics.

“They thought I was crazy when I came up with bowling, and they thought I’d completely lost my mind when I brought up bass fishing,” said Fitzgerald, tongue in cheek. “We wouldn’t have been able to do it without (Corbin’s) support.. ... I think it’s a great success, when you see how many kids are out here enjoying themselves. There are a lot out here who wouldn’t be playing a sport besides this.”

That didn’t include Newport’s Pare, who plays football for the Tigers as a middle linebacker, fullback and kicker. He and Hodgdon rode in a 22-foot motorboat owned by volunteer coach John Hooper, who doubled as the Newport boat’s “captain” (someone over age 18 with a valid New Hampshire fishing licence).

“When we heard about it, we pretty much went right to (Newport AD Doug Beaupre’s) office to get started,” said Pare, who reeled in three of the Tigers’ five fish.

Newport’s team, which included another pair of anglers who didn’t participate Thursday, practiced on several Upper Valley-area bodies of water, most recently on Unity’s Crescent Lake. Sticking primarily to the Moultonborough Bay on the north side of Winnipisaukee on Thursday, the largest fish the Tigers caught weighed about 21/2 pounds.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Hooper said. “Even after the championship, we want to keep it going for a little bit, maybe host Stevens and Kearsarge on Crescent Lake or something like that.”

Sunapee’s Harrington reeled in one of the biggest overall fishes Thursday, weighing 4.81 pounds. The junior caught the large mouth soon after the Lakers’ 8:30 a.m. departure.

“I caught it right off the bat, so I thought it was going to be a sign of things to come,” Harrington said. “Unfortunately, that’s not how it played out.”

The Cougars spent time in the classroom covering various angling techniques, as well as dry-land training casting into targets. Kearsarge also took to Little Lake Sunapee, Lake Sunapee and Grantham’s Eastman Lake to practice.

“We had some success in those lakes, but it’s a lot different in those lakes than it is here,” said Fitzgerald. “Just the sheer size (of Winnipisaukee) is a factor, because you could combine (the area of) all three lakes we practiced in, and it still wouldn’t be this big. Plus, this lake gets hammered with fishing tournaments almost every weekend, so I think it was a struggle for a lot of boats today.”

The Cougars’ boat patrolled waters about seven feet deep near a rock and a log for part of the day, with no luck. On the way back through later on, a rival boat had caught a big one at the same location.

“They had a captain who just knew exactly how to place the lure under the log, and it bit,” Fitzgerald said. “Some of the captains out here today were really experienced guys who have been fishing (competitively) for 20 years.”

Despite failing to make the championship tourney, the Cougars’ anglers felt the season was worthwhile.

“I knew almost nothing about fishing before this, now I know a lot,” said O’Neil, who’s been fishing with LaPrade since freshman year. “We’re a lot better off now as fishermen.”

Stevens, which only last week gained one-year school-board approval for fishing to be a varsity sport, did not hold any team practices this fall. Cardinals Athletic Director Aaron House said Stefan and Sprano were frustrated when they arrived on shore with no fish Thursday, but he’s excited about the potential for the sport at Stevens in the future. Competing at no cost to the school, according to House, the Cardinals angled from a boat donated by a Quechee resident.

“Next year, I think we’ll be much more organized,” said House. “Hopefully we’ll have some practices and we’d like to have at least one home tournament on the Connecticut River.”

Team scores: 1. Exeter 200; 2. Kingswood 198; 3. Milford 196; 4. Bedford 194; 5. Winnacunnet 192; 6. Prospect Mtn. 190; 7. Newport 188; 8. Alvirne 186; 9. Con-Val 184; 10. Moultonborough 182; 11. Bishop Brady 180.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.