Illinois hunting and fishing

Dylan Vaughn hands a bass over to West Frankfort teammate Kaleb Gardner during the weigh-in at the Illinois high school bass fishing state championship.

West Frankfort wins bass title

May 09, 2009 at 05:22 PM

Illinois fishing finals

Two-day totals

• 1. West Frankfort, 8, 16 pounds, 4 ounces
• 2. Zion-Benton, 8, 15-7
• 3. St. Charles North, 7, 12-12
• 4. Woodlawn, 7, 10-15
• 5. Riverton, 4, 10-8
• 6. Moline, 5, 10-5
• 7. Sterling Newman Catholic, 4, 7-9
• 8. Highland, 5, 7-1
• 9. Crab Orchard, 5, 7-1
• 10. Grant Park, 4, 6-6

Big Bass—Kyle Williams, Riverton, 5-2

Click here for complete results.

CARLYLE—Kaleb Gardner got soaked yet again Saturday.

One day after rainstorms drenched anglers in the Illinois bass fishing state tournament, Gardner fell out of his bass boat into Carlyle Lake.

Despite wet clothes and perhaps thanks to a ruling that made life jackets mandatory, Gardner was all smiles by day’s end. So were most participants in the nation’s first sanctioned high school fishing championship.

Admittedly, Gardner had more to grin about than competitors in the other 51 boats. He and his West Frankfort teammate Dylan Vaughn won the two-day state tournament with eight bass that weighed 16 pounds, 4 ounces. Zion-Benton was second with eight bass and 15-7 and first-day leader St. Charles slipped to third (seven, 12-12) after boating just two fish on the final day.

“Dream, that’s the only word to describe this,” said Vaughn, who caught all five of his team’s fish Saturday. “Dream.”

What’s funny is that’s the same word Moline angler Devon Gamboe used to describe the historic tournament, even though his team finished sixth after managing just two small fish on the final day. Gamboe said he never dreamed he’d fish a tournament until he was 18. That he doesn’t have to wait is thanks to the Illinois High School Association, which is clearly committed to making bass fishing work.

This is the first of a three-year contract at Carlyle Lake and even without a crowd of 1,200 at Saturday’s weigh-in, you get the feeling this event will be around for the long haul.

“This is certainly one of the most memorable moments I’ve had in my career,” executive director Marty Hickman said. “I think it’s that significant of a moment. It’s a different direction. We got to some kids we don’t normally touch.”

Maybe that’s why Richwoods freshman Jack Murphy was also smiling wide at the last weigh-in despite not catching a fish in two days. “I had a blast,” he said. Midland coach Doug Gudat was similarly upbeat after his team finished 17th to lead area squads. So was Chuck Davis at Farmington despite one bass in two days.

“You have to fish to know this really means something to the kids,” Davis said. “I told the kids, keep the program, keep your pin. You’re going to want to show that to your grandkids someday.

“It might not mean much now, but when you get to be 50 you can say, ‘I fished in the first high school fishing tournament in the nation.’ “

And West Frankfort’s team of sophomores can say they won the first tournament in the nation, not to mention the first state championship of any sort in school history.

Vaughn caught his limit, which included a 3-11 lunker, on a Bandit crankbait in sight of the Burlington Northern railroad trestle on the north end of the lake. That’s roughly the same area from which Zion-Benton pulled its limit, most of which came on blue-and-white spinnerbaits. Both teams caught three bass on Friday’s lightning-shortened first day of fishing.

Had the tournament ended early Saturday, West Frankfort would have blanked. All five of the team’s fish came after 10:30 a.m.

“It was starting to get to me. I was starting to panic and my dad told me to stay focused,” said Vaughn, whose father Keith was driving the boat.

That was the best advice Keith Vaughn had given since making a call to the West Frankfort High School administration in February of 2008, shortly after the IHSA announced it was going to offer fishing as an activity.

“Immediately after I heard I called and said, ‘We need to do this,’ ” Keith Vaughn said. “Fishing is something I love to do. And now to have your son do it too, it’s ... “

A dream.

Illinois hunting and fishing

Zion-Benton (whose team is pictured below) was in the same general area as West Frankfort for much of Saturday. Tim Fleischauer (right) led the way by catching six of the team’s eight fish, most on a blue-and-white spinnerbait.

Illinois hunting and fishing