State looks to lure young Nebraskans to fishing

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July 9, 2012 - 7:00pm

A fiery orange sunrise begins another hot summer day in Nebraska. But I-80 traffic is already humming and Drew Bailey is already catching fish a few hundred yards away at Hershey Wildlife Management Area.

"Got one! Not a bad-looking one."

Bailey will tell you his love of fishing is pretty simple: "It's just relaxing, and it keeps you out of trouble."

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Watch a video of Drew Bailey and coach Kent Priel

Perry Stoner, NET News

Drew Bailey fishing for bass

At 16, Bailey is one of the best young anglers in the state. Bailey, from North Platte, and his teammate, Adam Diehl from Brady, Neb., won the first high school fishing state tournament last year. Their success didn't end there.

"We went to regionals, (in) Summerville, Texas and we won that. I was pretty excited about that one. We went to South Carolina for nationals and we got fifth out of five," Bailey said. "I was thinking we might have a chance, but these guys had been fishing (longer), and they have better fishing climates than we do."

Last year's state tournament was put together on short notice by the Lincoln County Bass Bosses fishing club. This year, Nebraska Game and Parks is a sponsor, and the support of the state agency could help it grow into a bigger event. Game and Parks Fisheries Biologist Tony Munter is with Game and Parks and helped the Bass Bosses with last year's event.

"Just getting those kids that really liked fishing, getting them out there and having some ways to form a club and compete" is what it's about, he said. "You can compete as hard as you can, or if you just like to go out there and fish with your friends, it's no big deal."

"Fewer fishing licenses have been sold in recent years, and the number of young people fishing in Nebraska and other Midwestern states is declining. Munter said there's too much to do inside, and that outdoor activities are forced to compete with technology and video games.

Perry Stoner, NET News

Drew Bailey (left) and his fishing coach Kent Priel.

"As we move towards more of an urban society, especially in Lincoln and Omaha, and even in North Platte here, it's hard to get those kids exposed to experiences outside."

Bailey knows that firsthand. He's tried getting friends to fish with him: "Just playing videogames all day - I got a lot of friends that do that, and they don't want to go fishing. "

Munter said a key to getting youth involved is having adults alongside.

"What I've seen that really makes these things work is pair it with an adult club so they have mentors," he said. "They have those boats available, resources available, fishing gear. A lot of these kids don't have all the fishing gear they need."

Back at the Hershey Lake in Lincoln County, Kent Priel is doing his part to get more youth interested in fishing. He laughs when Bailey wants to switch fishing poles with him.

"The bad thing about taking these kids fishing is you have to give up your dang lures when they start biting on them," Priel said.

He tells Bailey how to handle a new lure they're trying: "When it hits the water, let it sit there till all the ripples are gone, give it one tiny twitch, then let it sit there again."

Perry Stoner, NET News

Bailey and Priel catch a lot of fish!

Priel, from North Platte, coached Bailey and Diehl at the state, regional and national competitions. It's an appropriate gig for him - he's considering getting back on the professional fishing circuit, which previously included participation in the Bass Master Classic, known as the Super Bowl of fishing. For now, Priel said it's just as fulfilling coaching young anglers like Bailey.

"Seven or eight guys took me under their wing and taught me how to bait a hook, taught me how to fish, you know. And it's great to be able to give that back to these kids," he said. "You know, I feel great and honored to be able to take them out and take them fishing and see them experiment and learn, and some are pretty darn good fishermen."

Game and Parks isn't just helping out with competitions to increase interest in fishing. About 30 times a year, you'll see one of the Free Family Fishing trailers parked at a lake somewhere in the state. Only a few folks showed up for one on a hot summer evening at Mormon Island Recreation Area, south of Grand Island.

"Push the button with your thumb, pull it back over your shoulder," Larry Pape said, teaching a girl to cast a rod. "There you go, perfect."

Games and Parks Aquatic Education Specialist Pape said these events reintroduce fishing to parents and grandparents who spent more time outdoors than today's younger generation.

"We're tapping those people, and helping them out to invest in the future by helping them teach their kids how to do it," he said. "And it's really hitting the heartstrings of those people. They're bringing their kids out, and you know, they're finding that it's an activity that they can do as a family activity, as well."

Pape said fishing as a competitive sport is good because anyone can do it.

"Physique, size, really doesn't have a lot to do with it. It's male or female, doesn't matter. Size doesn't matter," he said. "It's just a desire and the ability to learn all the techniques and the nuances to be good. And so, it gives those kids an extra opportunity to do something that is outside of the normal ball-and-hoop kind of activity."

And even when the fish aren't biting, the experience can be valuable, Munter said.

"You're exploring other things. You see other things while you are fishing. At lot of the science things that that are core to not only their school work, they get to see firsthand out there," he said.

Priel, who's had some success fishing professionally in the past, said the sport is expanding to the college level. A University of Nebraska-Lincoln bass fishing club travels to several events annually.

"There's opportunities that are unlimited," he said. "I mean, there's major colleges in the South that are sending recruiters out to recruit bass fishermen for their college and scholarships - the only bad part about it is they didn't have it when I was that age."

Bailey and Priel continue catching largemouth bass at the Hershey lake, but Bailey said that's not the main reason he's into the sport.

"Catching fish is a bonus, but just being out here is the fun part."

He isn't exactly sure how fishing fits into his future. For now, he'd much rather be on a lake than playing videogames.

"I'm just gonna see how far it takes me," he said. "I'm doing good right now. I think I'm getting used to everything, trying out new stuff. Listening to what people have to say about how to fish. I got a great coach for it and I got time to practice."

Bailey hopes his practice will pay off in the upcoming state high school fishing tournament. Any high school-age youth is welcome to enter. High school club membership is not required and the event is not sponsored by the Nebraska School Activities Association which sponsors many other athletic championships. The state high school fishing tournament will be held July 28 at Summit Lake near Tekamah, Nebraska.



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