Fishing picture

High school fishing has become an increasingly popular sport in Texas.

Photo courtesy of Henry Niemiec

Football is the dominant sport in Texas, and with practices underway at the high school, college and pro levels, that’s where a lot of folks are focusing their attention.

The start of school means the start of competition for a lot of students, whether they’re strapping on helmets or not.

One of the lesser-publicized sports is competitive fishing, and the Central Texas High School Tournament Trail is hoping to broaden the spotlight and bring more attention to the sport. In its fourth season, organizer Henry Niemiec says the tournament trail started out of necessity after a league based out of Austin shut down.

Niemiec, who teaches at Killeen’s Ellison High School, had put some Ellison teams together to compete down south, and suddenly was all dressed up with no place to go. “Thinking that it couldn’t be that hard to run a trail, and boy was I wrong about that, I went ahead and put the CTHSTT together,” Niemiec said. “Our first event that year included two schools and four teams. Last year, we averaged 40 teams from as many as 23 different schools or youth organizations, and we expect that number to climb this year to more than 50 teams per tournament.”

Competitors include students from grades 6-12 who will travel from Brownwood, Lampasas, College Station, New Braunfels and a number of schools in the Central Texas area. Lakes on this year’s schedule include Lake Waco, Belton, Brownwood, Austin’s LBJ, and others in the region.

The program is dependent on adult participation, as each team will be accompanied by a boat captain, a supervisor who operates the craft while the main engine is running and provides support to competitors. Boat captains will share their fishing knowledge with students, instructing and advising about locating fish, lure selection, techniques, retrieving and handling their catch, plus other angling-related knowledge and skills. Once at a fishing spot, captains can opt to let students operate the trolling motor.

Anglers will compete for scholarship money, and since it’s school-based, UIL rules (including no-pass, no-play) apply. The CTHSTT is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and Niemiec says as the program grows, more resources are available to award to students.

Trail sponsors include Texas Boat World in Harker Heights, McCain Hi-Performance Rods, Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits, Skeeter Boats and Marine Outlet in Temple.

For more information on the Central Texas High School Tournament Trail, or to find out how to become a sponsor or boat captain, visit www.cthstt.com or visit the event on Facebook.

Don’t miss the experience

Catching a fish or hitting your target are the main reasons people fish and hunt, but the collateral benefits of being outdoors can be nearly as rewarding. The sights, sounds and encounters that hunters and anglers experience help build understanding of and appreciation for nature and enhance the memories of our outdoor trips.

I was fortunate enough to live out in the middle of nowhere for a couple of years back in college, surrounded by thousands of acres of woods, waters and fields, and during that time, I discovered a lot of things that I would normally overlook on a day trip.

Mesquite trees are pretty common around Central Texas, and I’ve seen them my whole life. I’ve used a grubbing hoe to chop them out of the ground, used the chipped wood to flavor grilled and smoked meat, and stepped on a thorn or two along the way.

But until I lived in a place where I saw them year-round, I never paid much attention to mesquite beans. Our neighbor down the road, a 70-something-year-old man, knew the flora and fauna of the area as well as anybody. His family built their homestead, which he still lived in, before Texas was a state, and knowing how to live off the land was a matter of survival.

He told me that the American Indians who lived around there at that time taught his ancestors their way of life, and that the ripe, brown mesquite beans that grew thick in the fields were used mainly as a sweet treat for children and also ground into flour for cooking.

By the time we came along, our neighbor just used them to make mesquite bean jelly, which has an amber color and rich, sweet flavor. It was so good that we convinced him to enter it in the county fair, where the jelly took the blue ribbon.

On a Saturday morning drive around the lake, I noticed the mesquite beans were ripening nicely. Look for my entry in this year’s Heart O’ Texas Fair.

Be prepared

Success is all about how you handle Plan B, and my aim for this week’s column was to provide hunting forecasts from biologists and other wildlife experts. However, I wasn’t able to gather all the information I wanted during the week, so I had to put that plan back into the fridge.

Fortunately, Plan B came along in the form of the youth tournament trail above, and I’m always happy to shine the spotlight on kids in the outdoors.

Stay tuned for the hunting outlook, though. That’s my Plan A for next Sunday.