By Dave Rogers

For The Record

The president of the fastest growing phenomenon besides Donald Trump’s run for higher office says it’s time his kids test themselves.

“If these kids really and truly are going to move on from the high school world and pursue college and pro careers, they’re going to have to learn to fish rivers and tidal waters.

“This is a good place to start,” said the leader of the Southeast Texas High School Fishing Association, president Clint Fountain.

And so starts the buildup to Saturday, April 8 and the first SETXHSFA tournament held outside of Lake Sam Rayburn threatens to over-run Orange.

The Sabine River is the site. The Orange Boat Ramp will serve as headquarters. Fishing begins at 7 a.m. and ends at 3 p.m. Weigh-in is from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Fishing is allowed anywhere in Orange or Jefferson County but no fishing is allowed in Louisiana waters. Contestants are not allowed on the water Sunday through Thursday prior to the tournament but pre-fishing will take place Friday, April 7.

“Participant-wise, it’s going to be more than triple any fishing tournament we’ve had before,” said John Gothia, board member of the Greater Orange Chamber of Commerce and past fishing tournament chairman.

“The hotel demand will be more, but this is different, because they’re only going to stay one night.”

More than 40 schools are members of SETXHSFA and they regularly have as many as 500 boats compete in one of their tournaments.

The teams compete for college scholarship funds.

The Orange event will be the final tuneup before the May 6-7 series championship weekend at Rayburn.

High school fishing is a two-person team event, with two students per boat accompanied by an adult driver. There is a five-bass catch limit per team. But because of the new Sabine River limits, the new 12-inch minimum will in effect.

“Fishing down here is different from fishing a lake,” says Bridge City fishing team sponsor Nicole Harris. “You can catch bass out here in places you wouldn’t think. They’ll have to be looking for them.”

Bridge City is fielding 23 teams for the tournament and Orangefield, under the direction of sponsor Adam Brown, is bringing 20.

“It’s awesome,” Harris said of her team getting to fish near home. “We are super excited about it. We have a goal of having at least 10 teams in the top 50.”

Brown seconds that.

“This is a good opportunity for our kids. Our goal is to put Orange and the Sabine River on the map. I fish out there a lot. You can catch a lot of fish out there,” he said.

Brown says his team has grown from 20 members when it began two years ago to 50 this year.

“We’ve got a lot of kids interested,” he said.

The teams are club sports. Brown says his receives no money from the school district.

“We have to raise our own money through sponsorships,” he said. “That’s how we fund the club. They get to put logos on our jerseys.

“That proves they’re going to show up,” Brown said.

Bridge City started its fishing team in 2014, when the SETXHSFA was formed.

“We haven’t won a championship, but we average three to five top-50 finishes in every tournament,” Harris said. “Our students earned about $10,000 collectively in scholarships through fishing last year.”

Harris points out that fishing is a sport in which boys and girls can compete side by side.

“We have two all-girl teams competing this year,” she said.

“One of our all-girl teams has made BC Fishing particularly proud this season. Balei Slaughter and Lacey Pender have finished in the top 50 and won scholarships in two of the four tournaments we’ve had.”

Balei Slaughter and Lacey Pender have made quite a splash this year.  They have finished in the top 50 and won scholarships in 2 out of the 4 tournaments we have had so far.  Balei caught a record best last tournament reeling in a beautiful 6.38lb lunker.

Orangefield’s team was started by a girl, Brown said. That girl, Brooklyn Goldsmith, is the club’s president.