It didn’t go off quite as expected, but the inaugural season for Lamoille Union’s new bass fishing team is in the books.
Lamoille’s first-ever varsity anglers, senior Caleb Gale and junior Nolin Wuestenberg, represented the Lancers at the high school state championship earlier this fall, fishing their way to a fifth-place finish in their first-ever competitive high school tournament.
“Of course you’re trying to win, but I was just happy to be doing a sport for my school, and it was fishing,” Wuestenberg said. “It felt weird, but it was great.”
“It’s exciting to have a sport that takes advantage of the natural resources of Vermont,” said Lamoille Union athletic director Tim Messier, especially because it’s so different from traditional sports and might appeal to students who don’t participate in those. “We’re excited about how the sport can grow in the future.”
Lamoille Union didn’t launch a bass fishing team in 2019, the first year the event became a sanctioned high school varsity sport under the Vermont Principals’ Association, despite Gale and a few others asking for the school to do so at the time.
“I talked to Tim about getting a team started,” said Gale, who has been fishing his whole life. While that initial effort failed, he was one of the first to sign up for the team when it was announced earlier this year that Lamoille was adding one.
Wuestenberg got into bass fishing at a later age, finding his love of the sport with a few friends who have a camp on Lake Eden a few years ago.
“I didn’t know how to feel about it being competitive,” at first, he said, but it’s grown on him.
“I knew Caleb had been trying to get a team together for a couple years, and I’m pretty good friends with him so I decided I’d give it a go,” Wuestenberg said.
Gale said that he and Wuestenberg didn’t have what you would call planned team practices, but they both love to fish and spent plenty of time doing it this summer and fall, even before they knew about the team.
“We were fishing all summer long anyway,” Gale said. “I’ve always fished, my whole life starting out with my dad.”
Wuestenberg also fishes regularly with his dad now that he’s gotten into the sport. In fact, it was Wuestenberg’s dad who captained their boat as they toured Lake Champlain on Oct. 3 during the state championship tournament.
The pair weren’t able to get in any other tournaments this season — in an already-shortened COVID-19 season logistical problems canceled the only tournament planned ahead of the state championships, and a makeup tourney later in the fall was canceled due to high winds.
Messier said 2020 served up a steep learning curve for him and the athletes on the team when it comes to competitive bass fishing. One of those tidbits had to do with when you can and can’t fish.
“As I’ve learned, high winds and lightning are the two kisses of death for boating and fishing events,” Messier said.
Those cancelations made for a herky-jerky, stop-and-go 2020 season, but once Gale and Wuestenberg were finally able to get out on Lake Champlain for the state championship tournament they found their element.
That tournament was the first competitive event for Wuestenberg, but Gale had a bit more experience.
“I’ve fished the LCI (Lake Champlain Invitational) before, a few other tournaments,” Gale said, but mostly he just fishes for fun, because he loves it.
Even so, both anglers were a little nervous as they headed to South Hero, where all the boats launched for the tournament.
“Late-season fishing around Vermont, it isn’t really the best,” Gale added. “If it was earlier in the year I probably would have been more confident.”
Nerves aside, once the pair arrived at the launch site, then got out on the lake with Wuestenberg’s dad they had a blast.
Gale had gone out on Champlain the week before, so he had some idea of spots to hit.
“I was feeling all right about it. Nervous, not sure what to expect, but once we got there it was fine for me,” Gale said.
“I really enjoyed the tournament,” Wuestenberg said. “Competitive, but everyone was super friendly.”
Some teams — there were 20 at the 2020 state championship — feature more than two anglers. Teams with four varsity members have to split time in the boat, with each pair fishing for roughly three hours, minus the time it takes to get back to the dock and then head back out on the water with the other two members of the team.
Lamoille didn’t have that problem — it’s only other fisherman, Dustin Getty, fished in the JV tournament — so Gale and Wuestenberg were able to concentrate their entire six-hour window on catching as many fish as possible. Gale said the fishing was slow but consistent.
“We caught a couple decent-sized fish, all keepers,” he said.
That steady work paid off toward the end of the day, when Wuestenberg reeled in his last fish of the day, a 4.1-pounder that served as the boat’s lunker — the biggest catch of the day.
In fact, Wuestenberg’s catch sat atop the leaderboard for largest fish of the day during weigh-ins until a few of the last teams, who’d been fishing further away, reported and knocked him down a few spots.
“They had some really big fish,” he said, but “it was pretty cool,” to see his name atop the leaderboard, even if it didn’t stick. Wuestenberg’s lunker also helped push Lamoille into the top five overall as a team; White River Valley School won the team title with a total of six fish weighing 22.93 pounds
Gale will graduate in the spring, making him a one-and-done on Lamoille’s bass fishing team, but he thinks the sport will take off.
“Definitely, there were quite a few kids,” who signed up for the team but then didn’t participate, he said, mostly due to the pandemic.
Wuestenberg plans to be back fishing for Lamoille next year.
“One-hundred percent, I’m on the team now, and I know I have lots of friends who fish. They saw the tourney, they saw that Caleb and I had a great time doing it. I think there’s going to be a pretty big team next year,” he said.