Senior Noah Skolnick didn’t experience fishing with his dad, like most kids on his fishing team had. Instead, he grew up fishing with his grandparents in Florida — and from then on, he couldn’t stop casting and reeling.
As a freshman Skolnick decided to join his competitive team to fuel his drive for fishing. Going into his fourth and final year, he has already been to two high school world finals tournaments and won the competitive fishing state championship in 2017.
The sport has since captured four other East students’ time. JuniorWerner Brundige, sophomore Ty Neidlein and freshmen Peyton Fore and Mason Sudermann all fish for the same club — Kickback Bass — and compete against other local fishing clubs around the Kansas area. As for Skolnick, he has transitioned from high school club to adult competitions, yet stays involved with the club.
For these five, waking up at 5 a.m. on a Saturday, slathering themselves in sunblock and chomping down turkey sandwiches are necessities — right along with fishing, of course.
Kickback Bass allows teenagers to form a team with one partner and an adult sponsor who’s in charge of driving the boat and running the main motor. The goal is to return from the lake with five of the heaviest fish that meet the length requirement for that specific tournament.
Elementary school friends, Brundige and Neidlein, began fishing at the competitive level two years ago after their parents heard about Kickback Bass from a friend.
“We wanted to see how good [at fishing] we were compared to everyone else,” Brundige said. “It adds an extra element to fishing that makes it more fun.”
Last year, the duo placed 18th at State after competing in the spring — March through May — and fall season — September to November.
According to Neidlein, the sport can be frustrating when the lake seems dry and you can’t catch as many fish — which, he said, is where teamwork between partners comes into play.
“ [Brundige] is definitely more determined than I am, and he holds me up really well,” Neidlein said. “If we are having a bad day, he never gives up and keeps on persisting.”
The sport isn’t something you can practice constantly, both Brundige and Neidlein said, so they have monthly meetings as a club to collect information about upcoming tournaments.
In order to further prepare themselves for tournaments, partners Fore and Sudermann fish the whole day prior to the each tournament to scout out the best fishing spots.
“You have to think more about what decisions you make [strategically],” Fore said. “Compared to when you are just regularly fishing.”
Fore and Sudermann’s last tournament on April 6 didn’t go as planned. That feeling of preparedness at their 6:30 a.m. meeting — which went over competition rules — quickly went away once they hit the water. Their motor had failed, so they were unable to reach their previously scouted spot. But Sudermann said, the failed motor ended up being a secret weapon. He caught a 5.46 pound fish, leading the pair to take first at the tournament and qualify for State on May 4 at Wilson Lake.
After his three years of experience, Skolnick decided that the high school level was not quite competitive enough. Yet he continues to support the team and develop skills as a leader by attending every monthly meeting, formerly holding a role of presidency and a management position at the club.
“I’ve reached the point where there’s not as strong of competition for me,” Skolnick said. “I’ve been fishing in the Kansas City team tournament, they pay ten grand to the winners, and it is an even more competitive level.”
Fishing isn’t a large, looming horizon for most of East’s current fisherman — with Suderman and Fore undecided about their future in the sport, and Neidlein ad Brundige certain they won’t continue.
But Skolnick is looking forward to pursuing his passion of business with his love for fishing to work in the outdoor and fishing industry after high school — whether that’s competing, selling or even producing gear.
“What’s really unique about fishing is it’s not like football,” Skolnick said. “Most kids who play football in high school are looking to play in college. If they are lucky they will end up playing professionally but their career is only 15 years, where fishing is a passion you can have throughout your whole life.”
For now, high school club is about learning and improving your skills — even if your motor breaks. Spending nine hours on the water strengthens their love for the sport and for the forever hobby that can be passed on to generations to come.