Late on the second day of competition, opportunities seemed dim to Jessieville High School anglers Larry Selig and Braxton Shifflett.
Eight hundred young anglers in 400 teams dreamed of advancing with 29 other teams on the third day to the June 30 finals. “We were sitting on about 300th place,” said Selig. “We didn’t have a game plan. We just couldn’t find anything to be confident about.”
Confidence returned as they recalled success enjoyed three days earlier in practice for the High School Fishing World Finals at Lake Pickwick, near Florence, Alabama.
Selig and Shifflett resolved to return to the same spot where Selig had caught a 4-pound bass on June 26. “Confidence is key in the sport of fishing,” Selig said.
The lake’s current was running as they motored to the spot on Saturday’s final, a good sign. “We knew the fish were going to be biting,” he said.
An hour and a half later they had two 3-pounders. “We knew we were going to stay there all day,” Selig said.
A half-ounce jig and a wobble head with a Strike King Rage Tail Craw were their weapons.
Eight hours of work netted their five-fish limit, a total catch of 18.1 pounds on the crucial cut-off day, good for 15th out of 30 qualifying teams.
Success brought them back to the same spot on the final day. The current was different, which would affect fishing, but they hauled in about 12 pounds between five fish, good for 19th overall, an improvement from 76th overall in 2017.
“We were 4 pounds away from a $20,000 scholarship to Bethel University,” Selig said.
A month from now, they will participate in a national tournament in Kentucky.
They qualified for world competition by competing in the Arkansas championship at Lake Dardanelle.
Both joined the high school’s Jessieville Fishing Club in the seventh grade, and both will be seniors this coming year.
But fishing caught their interest years ago.
“My dad (Chris Selig)always used to take me fishing when I was a little kid, and it just grew from there,” Selig said.
Joining the school’s team really whetted his interest. “The first time I went, I really got hooked onto it,” he said.
Shifflett’s grandfather, Danny Ellison, sparked his grandson’s interest. “I was like his little shadow,” he said.
The duo have been fishing as a team a couple of years.
The world tournament is held annually by Fishing League Worldwide, or FLW, and The Bass Federation, or TBF, along with the Student Angler Federation.
Both had considered a career as a professional angler.
“I think about it all the time, every day,” said Shifflett. “That’s my dream.” After high school graduation, he hopes to attend Arkansas Tech University and join ATU’s fishing team.
Likewise, Selig plans to attend college, where he will explore possibilities, including a possible career as an angler.
Both Jessieville and Fountain Lake high schools have fishing teams. Students, who must maintain a certain grade-point average, compete each year at the Battle of Balboa, in Lake Balboa. Selig works at the Home Plate Café. Shifflett works at Diamante Golf Course.
The tournament series’ sponsors hope to interest a new generation of anglers.
“High school fishing is the perfect recruitment, retention and reactivation program,” says FLW president of operations Kathy Fennel in a news release. “Since its introduction in 2010 with the inaugural High School Fishing World Finals, we’ve seen how effective it is at getting new anglers and lapsed anglers on the water while retaining existing anglers who often serve as mentors for school teams.
“You need to look no further than the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2016 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation that shows an eight percent increase in fishing participation since 2011 to see the program’s effectiveness.
“While several factors undoubtedly play into this growth, High School Fishing is certainly a leading contributor. We are creating a whole new generation of anglers and providing them with a connection to their schools and the outdoors,” Fennel said.
More than 20,000 anglers participated in the TBF/FLW High School Fishing program this year in 72 tournaments.
For more information, visit www.HighSchoolFish or www.FLWFish
All FLW and TBF High School Fishing tournaments are free to enter. The tournaments are two-person (team) events for students in grades 7-12 and open to any SAF-affiliated high school club.