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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Two local students compete at 13th Annual National High School Fishing Championship

By Carly Dykes The Spokesman-Review

Fish caught in the last hour of a national three-day fishing tournament earlier this summer propelled two Spokane County teens into the top quarter of finishers.

More than 400 boats lined Pickwick Lake in Florence, Alabama, for the 13th Annual High School Bass Fishing National Championship in late June. Two local high school students, Joe Vanderpool and Dakota Means, represented Spokane and competed in the nationally ranked competition.

After meeting at a football camp in their early teens, Vanderpool, a recent East Valley High School graduate, and Means, an upcoming Ridgeview High School senior, have been fishing together, competitively, on a high school level for nearly two and a half years.

“We both started off small, met each other and then grew together. We just kept fishing and got better, together,” Means said.

The 13th Annual High School Fishing National Championship, hosted by the Florence-Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau, is a competitive fishing competition open to teams of two comprised of students in grades 7 through 12.

“In a lot of states, their fishing programs are a lot bigger; they provide captains, boats and sponsorships. We kind of had to figure it all out on our own,” Vanderpool said.

To raise funds to complete their trip, Vanderpool and Means auctioned off ground beef, bacon and sausage that was donated to them by close family friends. After selling auction tickets at $5 a piece, the boys ended up raising $2,000.

With Vanderpool’s personal boat, and his dad as a boat captain, both boys completed the over 2,000-mile drive to Alabama in late June after qualifying for nationals last summer.

The journey was not smooth. Just a day before the competition began, and a mere four hours from Florence, the boat’s jack plate – a mount for an outdoor motor – broke, leaving the motor hanging on by a thread.

After being forced to stop in Illinois to address the malfunction, Vanderpool and Means thought it was the end of their journey.

“It was pretty scary. After nine months of preparation and fundraising, the thought of having to cancel was devastating,” Means said. “We got lucky with people helping us down in Illinois; we are very thankful for that.”

After arriving in Alabama on a Saturday night, the boys immediately began practicing. Sunday, Monday and Tuesday were filled with anywhere from eight to 10 hours of practice.

“Fishing was crazy considering that we have never fished anywhere like Alabama,” Vanderpool said. “We just kind of grew as each day progressed,” Means added.

The tournament began the following Wednesday and lasted until that Friday.

Each boat was allowed to count only three fish in their final weigh-in, and each fish was required to be over 15 inches in order to be counted.

“You have to be able to understand the mentality of a bigger fish compared to a smaller fish in order to succeed,” Means said.

“If you’re not prepared for the opportunities that you get, then you have no chance,” Vanderpool added.

After finishing at the halfway point, Vanderpool and Means admitted that they struggled for the first two days of the tournament. While they had no trouble catching plenty of fish on their final day, none were able to break the 15-inch mark.

In a stroke of luck, near the end of the final day of the tournament with zero documented fish and an hour left until weigh-in, Vanderpool caught a suitable fish.

“That fish was key for us because it gave us hope,” Means said. “Mentally and physically, we were exhausted. That fish gave us confidence for the final hour.

“I told a friend of mine down in Tri-Cities that we had zero fish, and he responded saying that a tournament can be won in five minutes, just keep your head up.”

A mere 15 minutes later, Means caught two more that were close to 3 pounds each.

Vanderpool and Means made it to day three out of four of the tournament and finished in the top hundred.

Vanderpool plans on attending Simpson University in Redding, California, where he will continue to fish competitively.

Means, an incoming senior, hopes for an opportunity to fish in college, but plans on juggling competitive basketball and competitive fishing for the time being.