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Bass fishing on national signing day: Scholastic and collegiate bass fishing reached that stage

All-American bass angler Wyatt Pazdro sat at the same signing table as football, baseball, volleyball and softball players and a runner at Minooka Community High School.

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Wyatt Pazdro signing his letter Wednesday night to bass fish for McKendree University while his sister Taylor, mother Tammy and father Curt watch.
Dale Bowman

Sometimes a signing letter is the right lure.

On national signing day Wednesday at Minooka Community High School, Wyatt Pazdro signed a letter of intent to compete in bass fishing at McKendree University. Yes, the All-American Pazdro, in his Bearcat-purple shirt and tie, was at the same table as three football players (Noah Ellens, Jake Shipla and Michael Susner), two baseball players (Nicholas Gough and Nick Serr), a cross-country runner (Julia Dames), a softball player (Samantha Norman) and a volleyball player (Rafael Vieyra III).

Bass fishing has come a long way since the Illinois High School Association made it a scholastic activity in 2008-09.

In 2010, Bethel University became the first college to offer bass-fishing scholarships. In less than a decade, B.A.S.S. had its first Bassmaster High School All-American Fishing Team.

Several nationally recognized anglers came from the Chicago area. Pazdro was an All-American in 2019. Buffalo Grove’s Tyler Lubbat was the first to earn back-to-back All-American selections in 2017 and 2018. Alec Berens, Pazdro’s former partner at Minooka, earned All-American honors in 2018 and was the first at Minooka to have a signing day for bass fishing when he signed with McKendree.

McKendree, founded in 1828, is the oldest college in Illinois. Bass fishing is a coed activity for the IHSA. At McKendree, bass fishing is a coed scholarship sport. Coach Jon Rinderer, who joined McKendree in 2013, recruits nationwide, but he is well-known as the coach of Highland, Illinois’ top bass-fishing high school.

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Wyatt Pazdro, for bass fishing, was front and center Wednesday night on national signing day at Minooka Community High School with football, baseball, softball and volleyball players and a cross-country runner.
Dale Bowman

Sometimes bass fishing is more than bass fishing.

Pazdro admitted his freshman year in high school ‘‘was a tough year. I struggled.’’

In Pazdro’s All-American application last year, former coach Stan Tischer wrote an eloquent statement for him that concluded: ‘‘He has struggled with his grades in the past. I was unable to send in his app in past years because his current GPA was below a 2.5. His love of fishing and his understanding of improving himself helped him get to this point. He was able to work hard this year and get his current GPA to 2.85 this year.

‘‘He had been getting a 2.25 GPA each semester. He stepped up the work this year, and I believe it was the power of this sport and the requirement of this application to have a higher GPA. Fishing is becoming like other sports, such as football or basketball, in that it can help students want to achieve good grades when they otherwise would not have them. This push for grades may give Wyatt a chance to go to college and, thanks to college fishing, that powerful push from the sport of fishing will still be there, persuading him to continue his education.’’

Pazdro plans to study environmental science at McKendree.

When cross-country coach Kevin Gummerson presented Dames, he cracked about Pazdro, whom he taught in U.S. history: ‘‘I hope he learned as much about history as I did about bass fishing.’’

Afterward, Gummerson said his young son only could catch bluegills before Pazdro came to class one day and had lures for him to use with his son.

Pazdro has been involved in community efforts as diverse as sandbagging along the DuPage River to collecting food for Christmas baskets. In conservation efforts, he has helped plant fish habitats, worked the Des Plaines River cleanup, done habitat work on land and water and helped with children’s fishing events.

In the Minooka Anglers Club, Pazdro was ranked first as a freshman and junior, second as a sophomore and fourth this year. This spring, he will try to become one of a handful to fish the IHSA state finals all four years on Carlyle Lake.

‘‘He’s so focused and just has this concentration I don’t see very often from any athlete, let alone a fisherman,’’ coach David Barney said, remembering his first trip with Pazdro.

‘‘He and I are coming up on a little stick, and I made a cast at it and brought my lure through there and kept buzzing by. Wyatt is making cast after cast at this little stick. I am probably about 40 yards past the stick, and Wyatt is in the back of the boat heaving a lure all the way back at this little stick in the water. About the time where he couldn’t reach it anymore, this big fish blows up on the lure, and we get our first fish in the boat. And I am like, ‘Wow, why would you do that?’ He said, ‘There is only one place it could be, so I was casting there.’

‘‘Focus, attention to detail, all the things that make fishermen really, really good, Wyatt has that.’’

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Wyatt Pazdro shows his versatility while ice fishing earlier this year.
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