Long past time for IHSA to move state finals for bass fishing from Carlyle Lake

It’s about time.

Make that past time for the Illinois High School Association to change the state finals venue for bass fishing.

On Monday, the IHSA Board of Directors moved the state finals to Lake Shelbyville, next spring and through 2029.

“We enjoyed our 15 years at Carlyle Lake and appreciate all that the Carlyle Lake staff and surrounding communities did to support the tourney and help it thrive,” IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson said in the press release. “Lake Shelbyville is an equally worthy lake and we look forward to providing a first-class experience to our anglers there.”

Carlyle Lake was home to the Illinois High School Association’s state finals for bass fishing for 15 years.

Dale Bowman

The Carlyle community truly supported the finals. Carlyle had the infrastructure–cabins, camping, hotels, fast food, good restaurants, launches, major shopping, etc.–to host the finals.

But, bass fishing sucks on Carlyle. Of major waters in Illinois, it’s among the worst for bass.

May weather made for unsafe-boating conditions too often. In 15 years, the finals were shortened, postponed and delayed by weather events all but a few times.

And Carlyle is far southwest. Antioch, a top program, has a five-and-a-half hour drive to Carlyle. To Shelbyville will shave an hour off.

All but a few of the 15 years that the IHSA held the state championship for bass fishing at Carlyle Lake, the championship was delayed, shortened or postponed by weather-related issues, such as this storm in 2011.

Dale Bowman

“I think it’s great,” Mike Jarvis messaged. “A lot easier to get out of the wind, the shape of the lake won’t let the waves get nearly as bad either. It also sets up a lot better for bass fishing with the structure and creek arms, so that should make it easier for everyone to get on some fish.”

Jarvis, who as a freshman in the inaugural 2008-09 season led Taft to the state finals for the first of his three times, noted, “Plus it’s actually more centrally located than Carlyle. Infrastructure wise it’s great, tons of resorts to stay at and quality boat launches all along the lake.”

Kyle Tepper in 2018 teamed with fellow freshman Kyle Anderson to take Antioch to fourth.

“There’s enough water to swap fisheries every year or every couple of years,” Tepper texted. “I think it’d relieve some of the pressure from fishing a lake that hard and give kids more places and techniques to learn. Shelbyville is definitely a more productive fishery, so it should be neat to see what bags come out.”

“Shelbyville is a good fishing lake for sure and will be way more safe for the kids than Carlyle,” Taft coach Scott Plencner messaged. “The wind whips across [Carlyle] so bad when there’s a north or south wind. I wish it would’ve been Springfield, more centrally located with hotels and lots of services to support a big tournament.

“I think IHSA sometimes forgets about the northern Illinois schools. Half of bass-fishing coaching is doing logistics like finding rooms for the kids and stuff. I was on the advisory committee for many years with Kurt [Gibson] and pushed for a move to Springfield. Springfield even put in bids.”

That Carlyle was chosen the last time over Springfield sparked a surge in the coaches tournament trail–ICASSTT–as an alternative outlet for student anglers.

For example, beginning in August, 2023, on Lake Jacksonville to “The Clash Championship” on Lake Springfield the first weekend in June, ICASSTT also used these waters: Cal Sag/Lake Calumet, Kankakee/Des Plaines rivers, Kinkaid Lake, Lake of Egypt, Shelbyville, Chain O’Lakes, Clinton Lake, Sangchris Lake, East Fork Lake, Newton Lake, Braidwood Lake, Heidecke Lake and Forbes Lake. Significantly, Carlyle is not on that list.

A panoramic view from Lindsay Bridge before take-off on the final day of the ICASSTT Clash on Lake Springfield in 2023.

Dale Bowman

Humberto Gonzalez, former Naperville North coach who now owns and is director of ICASSTT, said the move “is the greatest thing” and Shelbyville is a better fishery.

“Springfield is probably still No. 1 when it comes to high school kids,” he said. “But, safety too, there’s a lot more places where kids and boaters can stay safe [on Shelbyville]. Some of the boaters aren’t as experienced.”

Some schools have guides or tournament anglers to drive boats. Many rely on moms, dads, uncles and such to drive. Boats vary wildly, too, from high-end bass boats to small johnboats.

“A rotation model, where different bodies of water are used for the finals every few years would be an interesting way to do it,” emailed Joe Drover, coach of the state champion Wheaton North. “Would be great to see a rotation every 5-year contract to a new lake. Springfield and Clinton would make for some new scenery.

“Shelbyville will provide a significant amount of fishable water with all of the creek channels, coves, laydowns, and man-made structure on the lake, but has gotten more attention for crappie over the years than bass. It will be exciting for the kids to have an opportunity to fish a new body of water with ample room to spread out safely, plus tournament weights have been solid this year, so should be fun for the kids moving forward.

“The proximity and more central location make it easier for all teams to get some experience on the lake compared to a lake that is on the extreme ends of the state.”

Boats lining up for takeoff on Carlyle Lake for the IHSA’s bass fishing state finals.

Dale Bowman

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