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The school of fish: MSH bass masters qualify for Nationals, troll for more anglers
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The school of fish: MSH bass masters qualify for Nationals, troll for more anglers

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The mere mention of team sports can conjure a certain set of images to the forefront of the mind’s eye. There’s the particular musk and dinge of a locker room. There’s the spritz and backwash of water bottles and Gatorade buckets. There’s sleepy bus rides to, and rowdy bus rides back from events on the road.

It’s all familiar and predictable, if also a bit gross. The equipment might change, but that sticky residue, the essence of the operation never really does.

And then there’s the burgeoning world of competitive team bass fishing, all chock-full of its own sights, sounds, and smells capable of penetrating the cortex of the brain permanently.

If the fledgling Mt. St. Helens Student Anglers Federation is successful in their mission statement, there will soon be scores of area students positioned to learn first hand the feel of slimy scales between fingertips, the smell of spray-on super stink elixirs and the sight of a rod tip bending like a rainbow over the bow of a flat boat.

That group, founded by the Mt. St. Helens Bass Masters club, even has a set of fresh faced ambassadors who have held up their end of the bargain by outfishing nearly everyone every time they set foot in a boat. At the top of that list of sponsored local rip lippers are Wesley Opsahl of Toutle and Ethan Inman of Castle Rock. Those bass busters were able to win a Regional bass tournament at Moses Lake back in September, and in doing so, punched their tickets to the National Student Anglers Federation Tournament at Lake Hartwell, South Carolina in June 2021.

As a reward for the win at Moses Lake they each also banked $350 in scholarship money to stuff in their college tuition coffers.

“Wesley is no stranger to the spotlight as he won a local bass tournament (Silver Lake) last October winning $800,” noted Mt. St. Helens Bass Masters president Phil Martin in an email to The Daily News. “His grandfather, Randy Thompson, a member of the Mt. St. Helens Bass Masters, took the reins and developed the Mt. St. Helens Bassers Student Angler Federation.”

Indeed, under his grandfather’s watchful eye, Opsahl has established himself at the top of the heap over the last two years by regularly landing lunkers that tip the scales in his favor. Last October at Silver Lake he brought home the big trophy by landing a 5.98 pound bass.

That trip was the first where Opsahl was free to call all the shots on the boat, including where and when to fish.

“I’ve been fishing forever, since I was 2. My grandpa took me out in his boat and I’ve been fishing ever since,” Opsahl said. “There’s been a little bit of poking around but mostly I’ve had good people to point me in the right direction.”

Opsahl’s grandpappy says he was inspired to start the Mt. St. Helens student anglers team after learning that there’s a lot more than pride to be garnered by the winners. Thompson, who serves as vice president of the local bass masters outfit, says there’s also about $2.3 million in college scholarships available for serious anglers who put in their time on the water.

“I decided to start a Student Angler Federation fishing group for the youth members. The reason I did that is there are endless scholarships available to these young men for fishing,” Thompson explained. “You know as well as I do that a lot of these young kids are either not football, or not baseball standouts. So this is another avenue for them to fish and get outdoors away from a computer and video games and just enjoy the outdoors and fish.”

To date the Mt. St. Helens student-anglers have recruited eight members, enough for four teams. Those teams set out on waters across the region when the bass are biting (spring through fall), while being piloted by a cadre of volunteer boat captains. Then, they work in tandem to outfish their peers and opponents alike at local honey holes and regional destinations Lake Washington and Potholes Reservoir, along with that fortuitous Regional Tournament at Moses Lake.

Area student-anglers who’ve jumped onboard already include Opsahl and Inman, Tristan and Treyton Bell of Kelso, Nolan Williams and Kayden Tallman of Castle Rock, and Kale and Caden Kimball of Toutle Lake High School.

“Bass fishing is one of the hottest sports in America. Fishing is beating out football, baseball and tennis for youth sports,” Martin added. “Washington and Oregon have the potential of becoming one the premier bass fishing locations if the states would be willing to listen and manage the fishery rather than exterminate the species in the PNW.”

Although his salad days are behind him, Glenn Hancuff will also represent the Mt. St. Helens Bass Masters club at a National Tournament next year after finishing first at the TBF Regional Tournament at Lake Roosevelt earlier this year.

Back on the junior circuit, the hot rods of Opsahl and Inman are helping to push the club into the limelight like a 12-foot boat strapped with a 10-horse kicker. However, their fairytale nearly came to a premature end on the side of the road when their boat trailer turned into a pumpkin on the way to last month’s regional tournament.

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With Thompson at the wheel the angling team hit Highway 12 and headed east — destination Moses Lake. But they made it only as far as Morton before losing a wheel on the trailer and were forced to utilize nothing but elbow grease, duct tape and baling twine to turn around and limp the rig back home.

Sitting safe, but without a way to pull the boat, time was ticking and their hopes were dwindling. So they got on the phone and called up Martin who just happened to be in possession of a boat that Thompson used to own. Without reservation Martin gave permission for the hard up anglers to hitch up the idle boat and pull it across the state in order to represent the Mt. St. Helens bass contingent.

Inman and Opsahl said they were nervous they might not make it in time all the way up until they finally floated that borrowed boat in Eastern Washington. From there, instincts kicked in and they promptly got lost in the race to land big bass before finally coming out on top.

Although they’ve got to wait eight months before wetting a line on the national stage next June, Opsahl and Inman plan on staying sharp by working their favorite local lakes and ponds for all they’re worth. If they can manage to reel big enough fish in South Carolina they could wind up advancing all the way to the World Championship Tournament.

Opsahl, who plays football and baseball for the Fighting Ducks of Toutle Lake High School, says Riffe Lake is his favorite body of water to try his luck in Southwest Washington because it seems to have the most fish to catch.

“Silver Lake has large mouth, so you’ve got a better chance of catching a big fish but you’ve got a better chance of catching a lot of fish at Riffe,” Opsahl said.

While he’s fished the Willamette River and Scappoose Bay, Opsahl says that bass anglers who are still trying to find their way should focus on smaller and warmer bodies of water. He’s even managed to get bass to bite in Coal Creek west of Longview.

As for Inman, a freshman who plays football and baseball and wrestles for the Rockets, he couldn’t have asked for a more successful first foray into team bass fishing.

“I was pretty excited. I always wanted to do it but I never thought I actually would,” Inman said.

Inman’s biggest catch thus far is a 4.5 pound lunker from Swofford Pond in Mossyrock. He acknowledges that the multitude of baits and complexities of bass habitat and biting tendencies can be daunting for anglers who are new to the sport. However, figuring out that maze of options and tactics is what makes those telltale tugs on the line so rewarding.

“I watched a lot of Youtube and then I just caught on to it and it started to get a little easier but it still takes a lot of work,” Inman said. “I’d like to see more boats out there, more teams, and everyone just trying to grow the club. It gives you more people to talk to when you’re out there and makes it more fun.”

As a wise and wily sophomore on the circuit Opsahl acknowledges that those challenges are real, but insists they shouldn’t be a deterrent for any curious or aspiring anglers.

“The good thing about never doing it before is that nobody fishes the same. So you can learn or the members will teach you,” Opsahl said.

To that end, the Mt. St. Helens bass fishing team is committed to schooling as many young fishers as possible. Organizers know there are barriers to the sport, like boats, and trucks, and trailers and knowhow, but they are committed to break down those obstacles one by one.

“That’s this club’s way of giving back to the youth and this sport. We’re trying to promote it and get these kids in the outdoors,” Thompson noted. “I’d like to give a shout out to the guys who donated their time and effort to these kids with their boats and gas. It’s kind of a thankless job because you have to be on the boat all day but you don’t get to fish.”

Considering all that help, and the deep-rooted fishing culture in this neck of the woods, Thompson is not at all surprised at the success that the Mt. St. Helens bass teams have had so far. In fact, he expects to see a whole lot more of it in the future as the club works to lure in more piscatorial prospectors using barbed hook, line and sinker.

“We’ve got a lot of great fishermen in this area, which makes sense because it’s a great area for fishing. But what we’ve found is that their kids are also good fishermen and when they wind up on the water against kids from other areas they’ve really wound up doing really well,” Thompson said.

For additional information on the Mt. St. Helens Bass Masters go online to www.mshbm.org, or send an email Martin at philip.martin@fosterfarms.com. Information on high school bass fishing and the Student Angler Federation can be found online at highschoolfishing.org/2020-saf-tournament-schedules-info-results/.

The Daily News will provide regular updates on the MSH SAF once tournaments begin again in the spring.

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