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The meaning of Nichole Mara, fishing and life: Impact of high school bass fishing and more

Nichole Mara set the tone for young women in Illinois’ innovative high school bass fishing and she keeps on giving back and speaking up.

Nichole Mara set the record for largest bass (a 5-pound, 9-ounce largemouth) at the IHSA state finals as a senior at Hinsdale Central in 2012.
Dale Bowman

Nichole Mara remembers her first fishing tournament being a derby when she was 6.

I remember her as a senior at Hinsdale Central in 2012 at the state finals for high school bass fishing at Carlyle Lake. On stage, she hoisted a 5-pound, 9-ounce largemouth bass, heaviest weighed by a female in state finals history.

The next morning at takeoff she gave a thumbs up to the crowd. Mara has that it thing, the grasp of the moment.

Nichole Mara, as a senior at Hinsdale Central, gave a thumbs up to the crowd at takeoff on Day 2 of the IHSA state championship for bass fishing in 2012 on Carlyle Lake.
Dale Bowman

If Mara set the mark for young women in high school bass fishing, Goreville’s Kaeden Albright seems destined to build on that. Albright, fishing with her older brother Landon, finished second at the state finals in May (by three ounces). That followed up an 11th last year when she was a freshman. She has one more year to fish with her brother, then plans to fish her senior year with younger sister Reice Mae.

Albright is different than Mara but has that same grasp of the moment.

Asked if he had a special memory of Mara, Hinsdale South coach Jim Bondi emailed, “We’ve spent some hours on the water but my favorite would have to be the time she spilled her PowerBait (liquid from the container) all over her nice purse. She was probably only 15 but it still stands out as the perfect sum of Nichole’s dichotomy.’’

Dichotomy, not a word often encountered in discussions of tournament bass anglers.

But Mara is different, somebody in the moment but not overwhelmed by it.

She fished two years at Hinsdale South, then reached the state finals her junior and senior years at Hinsdale Central. A year after graduation, she became an assistant coach/boat captain for Bondi at Hinsdale South.

Mara said she is “super close” to Bondi, who pushed her to finish her degree. She will do student teaching this fall, then get her diploma from North Central College in physical education and health.

“Through high school, dad [Larry] was the boat captain and mom [Julie] was always super supportive,” Mara said.

She still tournament fishes regularly with her dad.

Even personal life is entwined in bass fishing. Her boyfriend is tournament angler Matt Becker.

Nichole Mara still has the fishing gift, here with a pair of big smallmouth bass from Lake Erie earlier this year.

Mara is part of her age and big on social media, part of her role with Basa’s Marine.

“It is all about balance,’’ she said. “You’re basically pushing out youthful content to your readers. There are a ton of high school anglers and you are giving to the kids, who are the future.”

Mara also works the shows, such as the Boat Show and the Schaumburg Show for Basa’s.

“I do enjoy it, especially with Basa’s, they are like family and managed by a husband and wife [Richard and Jody Gotlund],” Mara said. “They have sponsored me since I was 14. It is a mutual benefit.”

Her dad bought a boat from Basa’s when she was 12 or 13.

I set up Mara’s background as an angler and a coach, before finishing with her take after two boats were damaged at state this year. She’s a groundbreaker. The Illinois High School Association should heed her comments posted after the finals.

“Fast forward to now being a coach and having the responsibility of my anglers, it’s honestly sad and disappointing that IHSA doesn’t just say, ‘Hey, let’s switch it up we’ve been here long enough and it’s a repetitive pattern,’” Mara posted. “State always gets postponed . . . if not once, two, three times due to weather.

“I missed my prom (not that I really cared anyways, lol) because state was switched so many times. There was talk about only having a three-year contract with Carlyle back when I was fishing as a sophomore.’’

She is right. The advisory committee, which included coaches and IDNR biologists, recommended switching state-finals sites every three years. IHSA officials ignored the advisory committee and all 11 of the years have been at Carlyle. She’s right about Carlyle and weather. In 10 of the 11 years at Carlyle, the finals have been delayed, shortened or postponed.

“It’s time for a change,’’ Mara posted. “It doesn’t matter how experienced of an angler you are, tournament angler or not. I’ve been in some terrible conditions and Carlyle has always been ranked up there. It’s not fair to the kids and it’s not fair that if you don’t have a 21-foot bass boat or a deep V-style hull that can handle that type of weather, you are already out of contention to place when the weather gets like that.

“Not to mention one of these times a student or coach is going to become seriously injured. ... The anglers should be having FUN not getting three hours of fishing time and calling it a ‘tournament’ due to weather. It’s not a fluke ... it happens every year and something needs to change.”

She earned the cred to be heard.

A scene during the IHSA’s state finals for bass fishing in 2011, when Nichole Mara was a junior, on Carlyle Lake.
Dale Bowman