CARLYLE, Ill.--The best fish stories out of the IHSA bass championship had nothing to do with bass fishing. How about gar, gar, gar, a 42-pound flathead and a 15-pound channel cat.
We'll start with the Regina Dominican team, the only all-girls school to enter the tournament. They reached state level by finishing third at the tough Skokie sectional.
Boy was I glad they were there. In my line of work, Natalie Hogan 9right) is a godsend. She spoke in complete sentences and knew what she is saying. I made sure to talk with her every day.
Coming off the ramp on the final day, I asked if they had any fish. Her answer was to the point: ``We caught gar, catfish, carp, everything but bass.''
That may have summed up the overall experience of the world's first statewide high school bass fishing championship. There was a lot of fishing, but the best of it wasn't necessarily for bass.
We begin with the best of those stories from Josh ``Schnagg'' Stagg.
The Zion-Benton sophomore was an alternate on Boat 1 for the Zee-Bees. If alternates weren't fishing, they had time on their hands.
Stagg used it to go fishing below the Carlyle dam.
And we should say catching.
Saturday morning was particularly good. He was catching ``sauger and stuff'' casting a little yellow Mister Twister on a chartreuse jighead.
When it happened, he latched into a monster fish and finally battled into shore.
Then it got exciting.
``Well, I got him almost to shore,'' he said. ``Then I snapped the line on the rocks and I pretty much dove in for him. I `rassled him in to shore.''
Leading into tournament, I did a story on Billy Rivard, a cancer-surviving senior who pushed to get Sandburg's bass fishing program going. Well, his mother Linda Rivard happened to see me working in the press room at the Microtel Inn Friday and stopped in.
She had some stories about fishing below the Carlyle dam with her father and Billy's fishing teacher, Bill Hickey, and her son. The other Sandburg team made the tournament, but Billy, his mother and grandfather came down any way to watch, cheer and do other fishing. Some of the white bass were pushing 3 pounds.
I finally got a free hour Saturday afternoon and got in some fishing there, but only caught smaller bluegill, drum and white bass. But that is so fishing area. It was packed.
There are two main areas below the dam.
One is the park area immediately below the dam, the other is a bit farther downstream in an area locals call ``The Suspension Bridge.'' It's named for the General Dean Suspension Bridge, the only suspension bridge in Illinois. There's a photo of the plaque here.
Marian Central Catholic, girl power too with coach Diane Dorn and fisher Jackie Bowler, caught two gar and brought them to the stage for weigh-in. IHSA assistant executive director Dave Gannaway strongly asked them not to show them. They were asked too any way and did.
Naperville North didn't weigh any bass in the tournament, but they sure caught fish . . . after the first day.
On Friday night, the group decided to go fun fishing. The gar were up shallow spawning, so they were throwing topwaters for gar. And caught a bunch. The surprise came when a 15-pound channel cat come up and hit a Zara Spook.
That's the story that made me think this IHSA bass fishing might actually fly.
If kids were still excited enough about fishing to go out fun fishing after a day like May 8, when the opening day was shortened to three hours of fishing and about five hours of sitting around waiting.
There's hope, for us, for the kids.