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Cavalier Fishing reels in success

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Jefferson Forest's fishing club places two teams in top four at State tournament

By Melanie Schumilas

Cavalier Fishing has made an impressive statement in just its first year of competing.

The teams of Robert Parker/Harrison Rice and Ethan Robinson/Spence Francis qualified for the 2017 JSC High School Championship after placing first and fourth at a regional tournament in late March.

The fishing rules of the JSC High School Championship were: five fish allowed in the fishers’ livewell, two of them having to be 14-inch and three could be 12-inch.   

Park and Harrison, both seniors, started the State tournament in first place after catching five fish for an overall weight of 14.67 pounds. The tandem’s biggest fish of the first day weighed a notable 3.73 pounds.

Freshmen Robinson and sophomore Francis finished the first day inside the top 10 at eighth place after capturing two fish for a total of 4.47 pounds.

“We were right in the hunt... we were leading on day one,” said Head Coach Troy Doss, who is the assistant principal at Jefferson Forest. “But the conditions changed in terms of water level on day two. The patterns changed a little bit and they weren’t able to find the quality fish they were finding the day before.”

Doss explained how flooding had caused the water level to rise to 3’10”, which caused all of the boat ramps to close except the one used for competition.

He also described the water as “extremely muddy,” which made it difficult to find the fish. There was also tons of debris in the water, according to Doss, which made safety a concern as the competitors were forced to dodge debris and travel slower.

The changes in conditions certainly impacted the boys, as well as the entire field of competitors. The winning team took home a bag of fish weighing 19.79 pounds, which was a whopping ten pounds lighter than last year’s winning weight, explained Doss.

The drastic change in conditions resulted in Parker and Rice conceding their first place position and settling for third overall. The tandem was only able to catch one fish on their final day on Kerr Lake, but they made it count, as it weighed 4.15 pounds and brought their tournament total to 18.82 pounds. A third place finish meant the boys didn’t qualify for the national tournament. This was especially heartbreaking considering they missed second by less than a pound.

Robinson and Francis had better luck on the water  the second day, wrangling in four fish to move them up to fourth. They finished with 12.20 pounds to take fourth place, just .20 pounds ahead of fifth. The young pair’s biggest fish weighed 3.12 pounds.

“First year competing as a team and you take fourth and third in the state... I’m very happy with that,” said Doss. “I’m satisfied and very proud of these kids for what they’ve accomplished.”

Doss started the club in 2015 at the request of a couple of kids and some reasons of his own.

“The main reason I started it was to give kids an opportunity to feel connected to the school that may not be your typical athlete,” said Doss. “There’s a lot of kids here that need to get involved and feel connected.”

Currently, there are 30 kids in the club, which meets monthly for 30 minutes. During their meetings, Doss takes them to the gym to practice casting at targets, has guest speakers such as professional anglers David Dudley, John Crews and avid kayaker Eric Shrock. Doss also uses the time to teach the kids about water safety, tying knots, fishing etiquette and anything else related to fishing.

In spring 2016, Doss finally took his club out onto the water. He held the first Cavalier High School Fishing Open at Smith Mountain Lake. The tournament was open to all Bedford County schools, which attracted some Staunton River students to join. Region 2 Federation anglers helped take the kids out on their boats for the competition.

Doss followed up the spring event with another tournament at Smith Mountain Lake in fall 2016. This fundraiser tournament attracted nearly 40 boats, which in return raised “a lot of money for the club,” said Doss.

Most recently, Cavalier Fishing held a BBQ fundraiser on April 22 at WW Novelty. Maurice Pack, who’s grandson is part of the club, smoked meat that was presold to raise funds. The club sold approximately 90 pieces of meat, which raised close to $1100.

Fundraising is essential for the club, as fishing is a rather expensive sport. Doss explained how the cost adds up when it comes to competitive fishing. Between buying a boat, gas for that boat, gas for the car to get to the boat, and all the necessary equipment, there’s a lot of money to be spent. The costliness of the sport is the main reason Doss was surprised the club was able to compete this quickly after formation.

“I figured it would be three to four years before we would ever get it running,” said Doss. “You got to get the kids prepared and there’s a lot of fundraising that goes along with it. It takes time, it takes money, and you have to have the right group of kids to be able to compete.”

Doss was fortunate enough to have three teams of two boys able to compete in the regional tournament. Unfortunately, the third pair had boat problems that prevented them for qualifying for the State tournament.

Out of approximately 30 club members, Doss said there are about seven of them that competitively fish. But, Doss believes there are many more competitive fishers at other high schools, the only thing missing is they don’t have clubs to compete for.

“I hope other high schools will follow our lead on (forming clubs) because there’s kids everywhere that love to fish,” said Doss. “We need Central Virginia to create more teams and more clubs so that we can compete against each other locally. We’ve got a great fishery at Smith Mountain Lake and we could hold local tournaments to compete each year.”

Doss’ long term goal, besides expanding high school fishing locally, is to qualify teams for the State tournament every year and ultimately qualify a team for the National tournament. Short term, Doss’ goal is to get the club members more active within the community. Doss hopes to get the club involved in the youth fishing day that is hosted at the State park, where his boys would help the youth by teaching them “the values about fishing and life.”

Doss is extremely proud of the competitive success Cavalier Fishing has garnered and the passion for fishing exhibited by the entire club. It’s a highlight for Doss to pass his passion for fishing, and prior competitive experience, onto club members. He also has enjoyed the “positive influence” the kids have had on him, as he doesn’t always get to deal with the most encouraging situations as assistant principal.

“They enjoy coming to club and they participate,” said Doss. “They’re always telling me ‘Hey, I caught this fish this past weekend’ and we’re sharing stories. They’re not behind the computer and they’re not behind the TV playing games. They’re out there enjoying nature, and that’s what it’s all about.”