The Central Texas High School Tournament Trail recently held the first of five qualifying tournaments on Stillhouse Hollow Reservoir. Forty-six middle school and high school students took to the water hoping to earn a place in the championship event to be held in May, 2016.

The early bite was hot but quickly cooled as the day wore on. As the teams began arriving at the weigh-in scales, it was clear that it was a tough day on the water.

After all the fish were weighed and released, the team of Drew Hargrove and Tristen Fletcher representing Moody ISD, took top honors with a five-fish limit tipping the scales at just over 14 pounds.

The second qualifying tournament of the season will be held today on Belton Lake, and the public is invited to the weigh-in beginning at 2 p.m. at the pavilion at Temple Lake Park. Early registration has 25 teams signed up to showcase their skills.

As our late-arriving autumn eases its way into Central Texas, water cools, shallow vegetation begins to diminish, and baitfish and the gamefish that eat them tend to move out to deeper water and tend to congregate more heavily than during the warmer months.

Vertical tactics pick up as horizontal tactics fade out. Such are lessons learned only by time spent on the water. Such tournaments allow youth to garner that kind of experience.

Lure selection in cooling water must also change. Large, snake-like soft plastics that have produced all summer are replaced by smaller, slower, finesse baits, and topwater presentations are typically set aside until the water begins to warm again in the spring.

Again, tournaments, and the opportunity to compare notes with peer competitors after those tournaments, provide valuable insights to these young anglers.

Interest in competitive fishing amongst 7th- to 12th-grade students has skyrocketed nationwide. Locally, U.S. Army veteran turned Killeen Independent School District employee Henry Niemiec has led the charge in paving the way for students to take their place in the outdoors by forming the Central Texas High School Tournament Trail (CTHTT).

The effort is heavily supported by anglers from local bass clubs who, when not competing themselves, act as “boat captains” to provide on-the-water transportation to fishing areas selected by the students they escort.

CTHTT falls under the umbrella of the Student Angler Federation (SAF), an arm of The Bass Federation (TBF), which sponsors competitive adult tournaments nationwide. The SAF provides guidance, structure, scholarships, gear discounts, and liability insurance to efforts like Niemiec’s across the nation. Niemiec also incorporates SAF’s ready-made curriculum to fold science, math, and language arts into the club’s activities.

Those interested in having youth participate or those interested in volunteering to help such youth may contact Niemiec at Henry.niemiec@killeenisd.org or call him at 254-368-0294. A standard KISD volunteer background check will be run on all volunteers.

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