Junior Bass Busters

“I’d rather catch a smallmouth bass because they fight harder,” 14-year old Junior Bass Buster River Mertz said.

Junior Bass Busters is a competitive fishing club for local teens and pre-teens – the largest youth fishing club in the state. The club not only introduces young people to the joys of fishing but also gives fathers and sons a chance to bond on the water.

“Sometimes kids are hard to stay in touch with at this age. It’s a great way to spend time with my teenage son while he’s developing,” said Doug Allen, father of 15-year-old Junior Bass Buster Sam Allen.

To prepare for regional and national competitions, kids fish the Susquehanna River and Rose Valley Lake.

“It’s about getting the right bait to get the fish to bite,” club organizer Tom Prowant said.

For young River, being outside is his favorite part. His favorite lure is a jig and trailer, which resembles a crayfish.

“I use a clinch or palomar knot to tie the hook. No sinker,” River said.

River and Sam both qualified to fish in this year’s Forrest Wood Cup, a national, televised fishing competition in Shreveport, La.

“I feel good,” River said. “I was surprised to qualify.”

“It’s been neat to watch my son Sam surpass me – he’s a far better fisherman than me,” Doug said.

Junior Bass Busters have qualified for regional competitions, too. Brent Engleman, 14, of Milton, fished Lake Erie’s Presque Isle Bay in July.

“I was the only one in my age group to catch the limit of bass,” Brent said.

Although competitions make Brent nervous, Doug said the club culture isn’t cut-throat.

“There’s a real team spirit to the extent that fathers want the kids to do well, but not at the expense of anyone else,” Doug said.

In addition to teaching fishing etiquette, Junior Bass Busters trains kids how to use boats.

“It’s like a big family. All the dads help with supplying boats,” Tom said.

Tom took over the club eight years ago and has been growing it through word-of-mouth ever since. Annual $15 dues go toward membership in two national fishing organizations – Forrest L. Wood and Bass Angler Sportsmen Society.

“It’s all catch and release. It’s about preserving the sport so that years from now they can enjoy the fish again,” Tom said.

The young fishermen shared plenty of advice, such as to avoid fishing during periods of high barometric pressure.

“If you want to find a good fishing hole, look for weeds and stumps,” River added.

Brent, who was using a ribbit frog lure, offered tips for getting unsnagged.

“Put tension on the line and snap it off quick – it’s called the bow and arrow method. It usually works,” Brent said.

Tom said he learns a lot about fishing from the kids. In return, he hopes to nurture in them a lifelong love of the sport.

“Once they do it and catch a few fish, some kids get hooked on it and eat, sleep and breathe fishing,” Tom said. “They help keep the sport going.”

Bass Buster Garrett Enders, 16, of Mifflinburg, is one such enthusiast.

“Don’t give up, keep on trying,” Garrett said. “That next cast could mean you catch the fish that makes you win.”