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High school bass fishing on edge: Changes inevitable as IHSA board extends Carlyle three more years

After the Illinois High School Association board extended the contract for Carlyle to host the bass fishing state finals for three more years, changes appear inevitable.

A file photo, one too common at the IHSA’s state finals for bass fishing at Carlyle Lake, from 2011 of a storm line at the scheduled takeoff time on Day 2.
A file photo, one too common at the IHSA’s state finals for bass fishing at Carlyle Lake, from 2011 of a storm line at the scheduled takeoff time on Day 2.
Dale Bowman

A storm building for a decade came to a head on June 14 when the Illinois High School Association board approved extending for three years Carlyle’s hosting the state finals for bass fishing. The first 12 finals were on Carlyle Lake.

“I guarantee quite a few schools will be pulling out of IHSA bass fishing,” Batavia coach Brian Drendel said.

The IHSA should heed him. He was on the original advisory committee. He’s helped host a sectional every year. He became president of the Illinois Bass Fishing Coaches Association, whose first board meeting was in January, 2020.

“Kids deserve a lake fishing better and coaches deserve a lake more centrally located so they don’t have to drive [up to five-hours-plus],” Drendel said.

Carlyle is an excellent for fishing crappie and produced the previous Illinois record for flathead catfish. When it comes to tournament bass fishing, it’s the least desired of Illinois’ bigger waters.

According to ifishillinois.org, Carlyle hosted only 11 tournaments in 2020 with biggest total five-fish bag of 75.94 pounds. That’s dwarfed by Lake Shelbyville (69, 842,5), Rend Lake (59, 842.5), Lake Springfield (49, 473.19), Clinton Lake (50, 414) and Chain O’Lakes (40, 287.25).

Carlyle is long and susceptible to storms, winds and waves in May. Only twice did the finals go as scheduled. The other 10 were postponed, delayed or shortened.

Shelbyville or Clinton would be most central, but neither has enough infrastructure nearby. Nor does Rend. The Chain is iffy on nearby housing and it is not central.

Hosting a state finals is about more than fishing. With a 70-boat field and support for a two-day event, nearby eateries and housing are needed for hundreds.

That leaves Carlyle and Springfield. Both submitted bids this year. Springfield is superior for eateries and hotels, as well as a better bass fishery.

Yet the IHSA board chose Carlyle, as IHSA executive director Craig Anderson explained, “The city of Carlyle, Carlyle High School, the Army Corps of Engineers who oversee Carlyle Lake, and a host of volunteers from around the area have been with us since day one. They helped us realize the dream of a bass fishing state championship and have embraced the event as a community in every way possible. We are proud to return there to conduct the event for three years.”

The first two sentences are true. The concluding one should not be.

“I have a hard time believing the bids were even, Carlyle is not geographically central,” Drendel said. “Call it complicity or being lazy, they just wanted to stay with what they knew or something shady is going on under the table.”

After the board meeting, he fielded calls and messages from around the state expressing displeasure.

Drendel noted among ideas suggested by the original advisory committee was moving the finals every year. Retired IHSA administrator Dave Gannaway, brains behind getting IHSA bass fishing, counseled for holding the first several years at the same lake to get it going.

Multiple coaches on the advisory committee had the impression the finals would rotate within a few years. Instead the first 15 will be on Carlyle.

The IBFCA was about more than moving the finals off Carlyle. They set up Illinois Coaches and Students State Tournament Trail. Even in the middle of the pandemic, it took off. Events were held around the state and drew fields as large as 60 boats.

At the ICASSTT finals on June 13, $14,000 in scholarships was awarded at the 57-boat field on Clinton, won by Galatia.

Several coaches called it the real state championship.

“Coaches have contacted the IHSA about changing the lake,” Drendel said. “It has all fallen on deaf ears.”

So change blows in.

Despite all the issues with Carlyle Lake, it has been part of the growth of high school bass fishing in Illinois, illustrated by Jim O’Neil, here in a file photo from 2011 with one of the biggest bass caught, who would go on to become a boat driver and coach. Credit: Dale Bowman
Despite all the issues with Carlyle Lake, it has been part of the growth of high school bass fishing in Illinois, illustrated by Jim O’Neil, here in a file photo from 2011 with one of the biggest bass caught, who would go on to become a boat driver and coach.
Dale Bowman