Between the fog, high winds, and less than ideal temperatures, it wasn’t the kind of weather you would have hoped for. Especially if you’re hosting the first-ever Morgan County High School Fishing Club bass tournament at Lake Oconee right in your back yard. However, Mother Nature couldn’t keep 173 teams (boats) and over 300 determined young fishermen from 45 different middle and high schools from competing in the tough conditions.
Team Captain (Coach) Gregg Thomas has been instrumental in getting things off the ground for this first year in existence for the MCHS Fishing Club. He said, “I was a tournament fisherman for about 15 years and my kids enjoyed it too. About two years ago some of the kids starting talking about it. I thought, ‘Why not’? We have good fisheries, good fish, good anglers, and a great opportunity here. The idea lost steam that first time so I just took the torch and ran with it this year.”
Thomas went to MCHS Athletic Director, Doug Connelly, who was excited about the idea and helped Thomas and MCHS Special Education teacher Meredith Holloway get things off the ground. Holloway said, “We were having a club period during the day at Morgan County and some of the guys were really just wasting their time. I went to Dr. Malanowski and asked if we could start a fishing club to meet during that time. At the first meeting we had about 40 boys show up. That’s when I knew this was something that we should pursue.”
According to both Holloway and Thomas another big piece of the puzzle came together when Jennifer Huff came on board. Described as the backbone of the team, Huff has handled the mountain of paperwork that comes along with being a member of B.A.S.S and Georgia B.A.S.S. (short for Bass Angler’s Sportsman Society).
After the idea was thrown around, Superintendent Dr. James Woodard was all for it and jokingly asked if he could become a member of the team. This first year the club has seven full teams consisting of fourteen fishermen along with captains for each group that have committed to the eight tournament schedule. The captains are the boat drivers that supply their boats and many times donate their time and money to help the team members out. The schedule consists of tournaments already fished at Lakes Sinclair, Allatoona, Oconee and upcoming events at Eufaula January 13, Seminole February 17, Hartwell March 10, Lanier April 14, West Point May 5 and the State Tournament scheduled for June 2 and 3. The only team at this point to have qualified for State is Cole Holloway and Zach Smith with their second place finish at Allatoona last month. From there it is possible to qualify for the National Youth BASS Tournament.
The two fisherman talked about the Oconee experience and making it to the State Tournament. Holloway said, “Today on Oconee was tough and didn’t exactly go as planned. The fog delay in the morning really affected our plans, but we fished all day and had a lot of short fish. We came in with two fish so it could have been better. It is what it is. We just didn’t put the fish in the boat that bit today so it was pretty disappointing finishing like we did on our home lake.” His partner Zach Smith commented, “It was great getting second place on Allatoona. We had never been to that lake before and didn’t know what to expect. But, we got some bites and were able to capitalize on them. It’s also great that we have already qualified for state and don’t have that worry in the back of our heads in future tournaments. We are looking forward to the upcoming tournaments and hope to bring back some more top finishes for Morgan County.”
This third event of the season was held out of Sugar Creek Marina on Lake Oconee. Holloway wanted to make sure they thanked owner William Clark for all he did for them. She commented, “William generously gave us 15% of all biscuit sales and 100% of the $5.00 ramp fees totaling $818! I also wanted to thank Mike Smith and all the ladies for serving up the hot biscuits. These proceeds will go toward our MCHS Fishing Team account to help pay for entry fees and jerseys. I also want to thank MOCO for all their support.” Other sponsors for the home tourney included Ingles and Pizza Hut who provided bottled water and discounted pizza to feed the large group of visiting teams.
Captains and members of the teams for the inaugural season are made up of:
Mark Holloway: Cole Holloway and Zach Smith
Gregg Thomas: Ryan and Jack Friddell
David Arienzo: Michael Arienzo and Michael Tamasi
Scott Huff: Landon Huff and Will Thomas
Ray Holloway: Chase Bryans and Grant Friddell
Chad Moss: Brady Moss and Chandler Burns
Bill Davis: Mason Davis and Justin Gasque
Note: All Captains are Dads of an angler except for Ray Holloway. He is volunteering his time. Another boat captain for the team was Bill Davis (who laughingly wanted to tell us about his wins at the BassMaster’s). He said, “Today and this year have been a huge success for these kids. I take them fishing, duck hunting, and other places. They are a great group of boys that I can carry with me anywhere and know they won’t ever be a problem.”
Some of the team members talked about the tournament. Chandler Burns said, “The two-three hour delay and wind made it tough. It was hard staying on good spots.” Justin Gasque remarked, “We fished the banks and flipped docks, but could only come up with one nice hybrid and some short fish.” Mason Davis agreed with some of his teammates when he said, “It was a rough day, but we had lots of fun. We threw everything in the box. It was just a slow day.” Brady Moss had some other problems during his day. He said, “We had engine problems this morning so could only use the trolling motor to fish near Sugar Creek Marina. It was just too windy.” Will Thomas gave his thoughts saying, “We got lots of bites and boated some short fish mainly on Shaky Heads in green pumpkin and using Z Crawls. It was fun out there today.”
Asked why they do it, here’s what the three leaders had to say. Huff said, “My role in the fishing team started with researching the requirements and steps necessary to get a HS team registered at the National and State level, getting our anglers registered with both organizations, serving as the liaison for our team with GA BASS Nation and Bassmaster, communicating rules and tournament info, making sure we are properly registered for tournaments, etc. Basically anything that involves a piece of paper! I would say that my involvement originated from a desire to make this happen because both my son and husband love to fish and with Scott also being a Captain – they get to do it together.”
Thomas added his thoughts with, “I do it for the kids, mine included. So many kids don’t fit into football or soccer or baseball. It gives those kids an opportunity and outlet to be a part of a team sport that they enjoy. You can come out here and start on our team. They run the boat, catch, and net the fish. They’re in charge of everything the entire day and have a big time with it. We had lots of compliments from other anglers on how smoothly the tournament and setup went. We also had some great raffle prizes like tackle, rods, lures, Yeti products and Gamma line that Georgia BASS has at every tournament. “
Holloway commented, “As a high school teacher, I noticed that we had a population of high schoolers that didn’t appear to have a lot of interest in athletics, but were passionate about fishing. I started a fishing club a few years ago that lasted until our weekly club days were cut out of the school day. The first day, I had around 40 guys show up!! I knew then that we had to have a fishing team! It has taken a few years, but I knew Dr. Edwards would help make this happen. She was all for starting a fishing team when I spoke to her about it her first year as Principal. Having a supporting Principal is half of the battle! With her support, and then the BOE’s and athletic department’s support, Gregg was able to do all the leg work that made this possible. Our team is thankful to have Gregg help make this dream a reality!
My husband Mark is a former Pro Angler (2001-2007) and a lifetime fisherman. He also did some guiding on Lake Oconee for a couple of years. He comes from a long line of fishermen! Naturally, my boys love to fish as well.
I am a strong believer in having ALL students involved in something! If it means creating a path that will allow them to feel a part of something, then it is our job to make it happen. When students choose to spend their time out on the lake practicing and fishing tournaments, it means that they are away from electronics and other things that we don’t want our youth around!
I am happy to be the MCHS sponsor, and I look forward to this program growing. We hope to make a positive impact in our community through conservation efforts and other outreach community programs. For our home tournament, our team decided to do a canned food drive. Sugar Creek also had a collection box for the surrounding community to participate in a couple weeks prior to the tournament. We had hundreds of canned goods that were collected from Sugar Creek and other Georgia fishing teams, along with our team. The MOCO anglers will be delivering these to the Caring Place upon our return from break.”
Complete results for the tournament weren’t in at press time, but Morgan had some positives to come out of it. Three MOCO teams weighed in fish with Arienzo and Tamasi leading the way with 4.44 pounds followed by Smith and Holloway with 4.37 pounds and Ryan Thomas (fishing alone) had 3.55 pounds. Mrs. Holloway gave her thoughts on the team’s day, “The rest of our team worked hard all day; unfortunately, they just did not have luck with keepers. Lots of smaller fish were caught.” As you know, it was a rough day with the 2 hour fog delay and windy weather, which definitely hurt. Zach and Cole had to sacrifice the 1 hour trip (due to 2 hour delay) to a place Mark and the boys had good luck at while practicing. I think several of our guys had to change their original plans, but that is fishing for you! Although none of our boys placed in the top 25, our teams made it in the 30’s, and one somewhere in the 40’s.” Mount Paran High School from Kennesaw won the tournament by weighing in a full complement of five keepers of around 12 pounds.
Sponsors of MOCO Bass Team are Patterson Heating and Air, Hold Em Hook Outdoors, Conyers Midas Muffler, Risk Management Assoc., Kilcor Construction, Scott Land Development, Social Circle Veterinary Hospital, Sugar Creek Marina, Robby Atkins, Allied Energy Services, Kim and Lin Logan Real Estate, O’Reilly Auto Parts, Tamasi Installations, Berry’s Tournament Trail, Crowes BBQ, Kristi Friddell, Bryans Foundation/Cattle, Oconee Sand and Gravel, Spa and Patio Center Lake Oconee, Oconee Electric, and Eddie and Sally Tate.
The team will compete next month at Lake Eufaula January 13 on the Georgia-Alabama state line. It is a well-known fishery known as “The Big Bass Capital of the World”.