WOLLITZ: Young anglers at YSU impress with national bid

Few comments cause my eyes to roll faster than the words of people who decry “kids these days.”

When will we learn generations have no right to declare themselves better than those who are coming of age after them? There really is no fair way to compare, much less judge.

So when I hear someone bemoan “kids these days” as lazy slackers whose only chance to succeed in life is if they can get paid for playing video games, I roll my eyes. They obviously aren’t hanging around the young people I know.

Consider two members of the Youngstown State University bass fishing team who achieved a huge success May 31. And consider the fine group of young people who are members of the Student Fishing League directed by Harry Emmerling of East Liverpool.

YSU fishers Mike Soots of McDonald and Jeff Jardine of Vienna qualified for the Yeti FLW College National Championship in 2020. They earned their berths thanks to finishing second with a 5-bass limit weighing 19 pounds 3 ounces in the FLW College Series bass tournament on the Chesapeake Bay.

Jardine and Soots are serious competitors who would jump at the chance to make a career of tournament fishing. If collegiate competition is the proving ground for those who wish for professional fishing careers, the Student Fishing League is the wellspring for prospective college competitors.

The SFL kids are serious. They want to learn. I had the opportunity last weekend to share fishing experience with Gavyn Gamble, a 16-year-old student at Beaver Local High School competing in the SFL’s championship on the Ohio River. He is the son of Brian Gamble and Lelia Morgan. Brother Keith Gamble also is an SFL member.

For the SFL tournaments, high school and middle school anglers are matched with boater coaches who provide fishing tips during the day. I was Gavyn’s boater coach.

I was impressed. He is courteous and articulate and hopes to put his talents in math to work in studying for a career in engineering – either mechanical or electrical. He’s also a skilled guitar player who enjoys performing rock and heavy metal music.

Gavyn fished hard and showed an instinct for reading the water, noticing seams where current met eddy, a result of his experience with fly-fishing for trout.

He proudly wore the medal he earned for his fifth place finish with two Ohio River smallmouth bass. But for a couple of key fish that jumped off, he would have been in contention for first place, which was snagged by Anthony Baglama of Boardman.

Anthony was coached by East Palestine bass legend Tony Holzer and shared the boat with Boardman SFL member Kennedy Furano.

Thanks to guidance by SFL director Emmerling and his friends, the students learn about service as well as fishing. More than half of the members of the SFL volunteered to serve in this year’s Muransky Companies Bass Classic benefiting the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley.

It is good to see young people with ambition, smarts and spirit.

Ambition and intuition helped Penguin bass anglers Soots and Jardine in their big event. They scouted massive Chesapeake Bay and settled in on a spot they judged would be productive when competition began.

Tides dictate when and where Chesapeake bass feed. Though the YSU anglers knew little about tidewater fishing, their maturity played a role in the positive outcome. “I figured we should just settle on a good spot where we thought big ones lived, fish hard and be ready when things got right,” Jardine said.

The plan worked. Soots fished a drop shot rig with a Strike King Dreamshot worm and Jardine threw a chartreuse and white Chatterbait. “Jeff caught the bigger 4- and 5-pound fish and I caught nice 3-pounders, then when the tide got going good, Jeff caught a 3-pound 6-ounce bass that nailed second place for us,” Soots said.

Next time I hear a “kids these days” complaint, I’ll resist rolling my eyes. I’ll smile instead. I am impressed with the kids I’ve seen in action these days.

Jack Wollitz enjoys writing about the things he’s learned while fishing so that others may discover the fun. He would be delighted to report what you’ve learned, too. Email him at jackbbaass@gmail.com.