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Rough ride or death trap? Tough reviews on IHSA state finals for bass fishing at Carlyle Lake

At least two boats were damaged on the final day of the IHSA’s bass-fishing state finals.

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A photo taken of Carlyle Lake about an hour after takeoff on the final day of the 11th IHSA state championship for bass fishing, the southerly winds were directly at my back and had nearly the length of the lake to build waves later in the morning.
Dale Bowman

Humberto Gonzalez didn’t mince words.

``Carlyle Lake is a death trap waiting to happen,’’ he emailed.

Gonzalez coaches the Naperville North bass fishing team, one of the 10 best in the Chicago area. He sent a graphically worded email to the Illinois High School Association about Carlyle Lake hosting all 11 state finals of bass fishing.

The IHSA started bass fishing in 2008 as an activity, an innovation much imitated since.

But it is flawed, perhaps fatally.

That became obvious last Saturday on the final day of the two-day state championship. Antioch, second after Day 1, ran north and had enough bass in its live well to medal when its motor died.

It was no day to trifle with Carlyle Lake, situated southwest to northeast. Boats in the state finals launch from the southwest corner at Dam West Recreation Area. The IHSA had consulted with the National Weather Service and knew conditions would deteriorate with south-southwest winds building to 30 mph. Tournament end time was shortened two hours.

Antioch came back slowly, about 10 mph, according to coach Brad Rubin, whom I would put as the second best coach in the state.

When the motor died.

``Extreme wind and waves — motor died 2/3 of way back, and boat was dead in water,’’ Rubin texted. ``We are OK, but boat is being slammed into rocks and is a total loss.’’

To be plain, the wreck was a result of power failure. Otherwise, they were doing things right, running a quarter-mile offshore. Smart drivers don’t run tight to shore, where rebounding and rogue waves roam. In the open water offshore, it is easier to deal with waves.

John Rinderer, coach of state champion Highland, had his guys fish the west side. They caught two bass from a pocket before leaving.

``We came back up to this end of the lake and fished, just to be safe,’’ he said.

``We were all the way up in the northwest corner, and coming home was treacherous,’’ said West Aurora coach Jim Dahle, who had his guys in a 21-foot Ranger.

It paid off off, Blackhawks juniors Fisher Overlin and Tyler Harvey caught their limit of five and jumped from 13th to third and the final trophy.

When I asked a coach I know well why he ran all the way to Keyesport, then had to come back nearly two-thirds of the lake into building waves, he said, ``That’s where our fish were. And we had the equipment to [make the run].’’

There’s truth about high school bass fishing in his catty observation. Boats and boating skills vary widely.

I’ve covered all 11 state finals and have seen everything from jon boats to high-end bass boats to walleye boats to a pontoon this year.

The skills of the boat captains (adults driving the boats) vary from a dad, mom, uncle, bass-club volunteer to top tournament anglers.

Back to Gonzalez, who emailed, ``Our boat has withstood 30+ mph winds with pouring rain on Lake Springfield and never was it this scary or dangerous. . . . I know it was no Antioch, but that’s because our motor didn’t die. If our motor would’ve failed — which it has plenty of times this season because it’s a used boat while it’s just in idle — we would’ve also had the same fate Antioch had. No, we didn’t have fish in our live well, but I don’t think that’s the point.’’

He’s right.

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One hole in the hull of Naperville North’s boat at the IHSA state finals for bass fishing on Carlyle Lake.
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In his email to the IHSA, Gonzalez had this [some editing]:

``Naperville North’s boat [43] on Saturday morning almost had the same incident that Antioch had. We were fortunate that our motor didn’t die and we were able to continue to idle back to the launch before we took too much damage, water and sink. Our boat was not so lucky; it took much damage to the hull and will need to be completely replaced.

``This email nor pictures of the hull cannot even come close to be able to describe what we went through. At one point, our entire 17-foot vessel was completely out of the water multiple times and at an approximate 45-60 degrees. We were taking in water from the stern and the bow every time we hit a wave for about 45 seconds straight until we finally were able to control our boat. We had to idle all the way back from [Allen Branch] to Dam West, which is a very long distance.

``The IHSA constantly talks about how it cares about safety, and you even have a safety meeting each year that constantly talks about safety, though you were not safe at all. The winds were barely 20 mph, and the lake was a death trap traveling south. Due to the size of the lake, 20 mph south or north winds turn into what 40 mph winds would be on almost any other body of water. I don’t care who wins the state title, and I don’t care from what part of the state they are from. This email is not about that. But if you continue to have the state finals at Carlyle Reservoir, someone will eventually get hurt or even die.’’

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A second hole in the hull of Naperville North’s boat at the IHSA state finals for bass fishing on Carlyle Lake.
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