Returning team is fishing for success

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Photo by Paul Lichy

One of the bass caught by the team during the May 13 tournament at Bangs Lake.

By Leslie Fireman, Chronicle Advisor

May 13 marked a triumphant return for WEGO’s bass fishing team, who competed at the Upstate Eight Conference championship at Bangs Lake in Wauconda, Illinois, and hooked 3 catches.

“We caught five bass. Two of them were under length, but the other three were of size,” said coach and English teacher Paul Lichy.

Freshman Josh Ptak holds up a bass during the UEC championship tournament. (Photo by Paul Lichy)

In UEC and IHSA competitions, bass must be at least 12″ in length: then scoring is based on weight. A team may keep five fish, in total, for judging, aiming to achieve a maximum weight, and may cull fish as needed.

Because some of WCCHS bass fishing team members had to return to school for sports, the group left the May 13 tournament two hours early.

“I don’t know how we did in the grand scale of things. I think South Elgin won, but I don’t know if they won by half a pound or eight pounds. But everyone was just thrilled to have a nice day on the lake, and catch fish, and have a good time. We found some good spots. We were having better luck than other teams were,” said Lichy.

The Upstate Eight Conference championship marked the second tournament for the newly-reinstated bass fishing team at WEGO, a team that first launched at the high school in 2010. The team has proven successful in years past, winning the Upstate Eight Conference (UEC) championship in 2014, and the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) State championship in 2018. The team has twice qualified for the IHSA State competition.

The team went on hiatus in 2021, however. Then, interested students approached Activity Director Marc Wolfe about restarting the team in the winter of 2022, and Lichy, a long-time angler, agreed to coach the group.

“When I was a kid, I would come home from school, drop my stuff, grab my fishing pole and go fishing. I fished with my dad all the time. We used to go to fishing trips on Michigan and Lake Erie. After high school, my dad passed away, so then it stopped being something I did very often. I missed doing that because it was always good, quiet time. Then I had kids, and my daughter saw pictures of me fishing with my dad, and so she always had questions about it. And then it just became something in her head that she wanted to do,” said Lichy.

They started fishing together three years ago.

“She loves it. She thinks it’s great. So, when I saw [Wolfe’s] announcement, I was like, ‘Well, this would be kind of fun,’ to kind of harken back to what I used to do for myself and with my dad, and now with my daughter,” said Lichy.

Freshman Logan Bryson displays a muskie while battling the elements on May 5. (Photo by Paul Lichy)

The official season kicked off in the spring with a 4-member team: freshmen JT Barrett, Logan Bryson and Josh Ptak, and junior Corrin Pradel, whose father founded the team back in 2010.

“I was the first to really know about it, but didn’t actually do much for putting it together. That was all Mr. Lichy,” said Pradel.

The team attended the IHSA Sectional tournament on May 5 at Shabbona Lake in Shabbona, Illinois, and although they did not place, the event was memorable.

“The first tournament was kind of a trial by fire. That was our first tournament as a team, that was my first tournament as a coach, it was freezing, it was raining, and it was windy. I’m talking five straight hours of rain and fifty-degree weather. It was hell. I got home and my wife said, ‘You look worse than I’ve ever seen,'” said Lichy.

“[Sectionals] was very difficult conditions, rainy, and no one did great. The biggest bag of five fish was only four pounds,” said Bryson, who has been fishing for about 11 years.

“It was a rough tournament being on the boat in cold rain, but it was still a good experiment,” said long-time angler Barrett.

Weather has played a significant role this season, and is a factor the team took into account when preparing for competitions. The “cold, wet spring” affected fishing this season, and Lichy knew.

“In the spring, fish spawn, but they don’t follow a calendar, they follow water temperature, so we needed to pay attention to that. And then what is their action based on that water temperature? So that’s what we were trying to focus on, and we jumped on YouTube and found a lot of fishing experts that have their own channels” to gain expertise on bait and fishing techniques during and off nesting season.

Freshman JT Barrett holds up a bass during the UEC championship tournament. (Photo by Paul Lichy)

The team also met at some ponds in West Chicago to fish from shore to prepare for the competitive season and bond as a group.

“We have very skilled anglers who know what they’re doing already – not to say everyone can’t learn a little bit more,” said Lichy.

“I think any opportunities we can give students to be involved in something they are passionate about, it is our responsibility to offer them those chances.  Also, with bass fishing, it is a life-long activity that students could do forever, and it’s great we can give them that chance to get started here at WEGO,” said Wolfe.

There are more than 320 competitive bass fishing teams at the high school level in Illinois.

“Coming into this, even having fished a large of my life, I didn’t know how big this was. There are more bass fishing teams than there are football teams in Illinois. There are more scholarships for bass fishing than there are for football and basketball,” said Lichy.

During a competitive event, two anglers are allowed in a given boat at one time (and a team is allowed a maximum of two boats). WCCHS’ team does not have its own boat at the time, but is able to rent watercraft for the tournaments. To keep costs low, Lichy rents just one boat and rotates team members in every two hours, as a competition typically lasts eight hours.

“The first contest, we had a pretty nice bass fishing boat, fully equipped with depth finder and a trolling engine, and the second one was a six-person pontoon boat. Both of them were nice to have,” said Lichy, who said the team will “figure out a better boat situation” down the road.

In the future, the team looks to grow in membership and build in some activities in the fall. Lichy is considering a “competition team and then other people that just want to get together to go fishing, watch informational videos, talk about technique, take a field trip to the Bass Pro Shop. Whatever makes people happy.”

Lichy also intends to look into sponsorship for further equipment the team may need, and is considering more invitational events at the local level.

Pradel also hopes to see the team increase in numbers in the future.

“One thing that’s different about fishing than any other sport is you can be doing everything in your power and skill set to catch some fish, but they still just won’t bite. So, with more boats and people on the water the more chances we can catch those winning fish,” said Pradel.