Haywood Anglers make a splash at Bassmaster tournament

Feb. 28—While it might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of high school athletics, fishing is quickly growing, especially in the Carolinas.

That's no different here in Haywood County, where the Haywood Anglers are based. The team isn't specific to any one school and is even open to kids who are homeschooled.

"It's a growing sport. I've never seen something blow up like this," said Kevin Moore, one of the adult leaders of the team. "It's building and building. The competition is getting tighter and tighter."

The group consists of five teams including one at the junior level — a first this season. Two fishers compete on each boat, with the teams split up as Evin Moore and Bridger Jones, Levi Brooks and Keagan Mahoney, Aidan Ellege and Colten Brown and Carson and Colton Mosteller. Dawson Henson and Cooper Rhinehart compete at the junior level for Haywood Anglers.

Haywood Anglers compete in events in both Carolinas, Tennessee and beyond. Recently, they competed at Clarks Hill Lake in Georgia in a Bassmaster Open event.

"They take kids from all over," Moore said. "The last one we were in in South Carolina, there were kids from South Dakota, Louisiana, New York. Kids were coming from everywhere to compete to make it to the next level."

During that event, the team of Moore and Jones finished in eighth place and qualified for nationals.

"It makes you put your head down and fish a whole lot harder," Jones said. "It gives you an end reward and something to look forward to at the end of the day."

But success comes at a cost.

"We're always looking for sponsors," Moore said. "It does cost. These guys have to travel. You've got gas money for vehicles and boots, entry fees, we've got to stay overnight. All that stuff costs money."

And the team has to attempt to keep up with the Joneses.

Due to being a relatively new team, every tournament that Haywood's local team competes in, they're facing teams with more experience at the high school level.

"Some of those high schools have 30 boats in a tournament. We started with two," Moore said. "They've got the sponsorships and the best of the best. Sometimes, we're having to borrow some line from somebody to get through the day."

While they might not have the boats lined in sponsors like some other teams do, Haywood Anglers have come a long way. At some initial tournaments, the team did not yet have jerseys to compete in.

"All the other teams had jerseys and we were coming in seventh and eighth place with T-shirts and stained shorts," Moore said.

While the costs can get expensive between boat repairs, equipment and gas, at the end of the day, Moore said it is well worth the financial and time costs.

"It's worth every penny of it to watch those kids get up there and weigh in, whether it be a half-pound or 20 pounds," he said.

There has been quite a bit of assistance come from those around Haywood County, as well.

"The local community has helped us out tremendously," Moore said.

In January, the team hosted a fundraising tournament, with 28 boats showing up. Despite it being "a cold, wet, miserable day," the team raised $3,700.

Many of the kids have a favorite lake — Lake Norman was named numerous times.

A lot of that is tied to how each individual fisher fishes.

"It ties into your style of fishing and how you want to fish," Jones said. "If you fish a certain way and then catch fish at a lake, you're drawn to that lake."

Additionally, the athletes are getting to travel to new lakes they've never competed on before.

"It makes it 10 times better going to a new lake," Jones said. "You don't have old stuff to depend on. You've got to learn it all from the ground up again. You try all new stuff. It's cool to see different places and how they're laid out."