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CHICAGO TEENS HEAD NORTH
As we all know, the IHSA has approved bass fishing as an activity at the high school level several years ago. Competing teens from over 230 schools in the State of Illinois fish lakes all over in pursuit of their chance to get into the State Finals competition at Lake Carlyle in May.
This year, Maryville (Father McGivney Catholic) High Schools near St. Louis won first place in the competition of over 63 other teams that qualified for the finals.
One other school that made it to the finals was Hinsdale South High School in Darien, Illinois. They finished in the top third of all competitive teams in 21st place.
These kids who belong to the Hinsdale South Bass Fishing Club are real winners though. With a club with a roster of about 40 members they have a dedicated coach who goes all out for the team. That coach is Jim Bondi who is also a teacher at HSHS.
Earlier this year Coach Bondi attended the Chicagoland Fishing, Travel and Outdoor Expo in Schaumburg. His mission was not only to see the latest in fishing tackle and some big name anglers, but also to find a destination where he could take his club of teenaged boys and girls for a summer fishing vacation.
The Schaumburg Show, as it’s called, has many lodges and resorts from around the midwest promoting their vacation destinations and booking new guests. Coach Bondi visited them all. His first question to all was simply this, “Are you willing and able to accommodate a group of about 30 high school kids for a fishing vacation?”
Now one would think that with an offer to book about 30 people to stay their resort, the owners would jump on the opportunity. Some resort owners admitted that they just were not big enough to handle it, but most said, “No way.” My guess is that having a group of 30 with mostly teens is too much of a challenge.
One of the sponsors of my TV Show, Illinois Outdoors, is the Wildcat Lodge in Boulder Junction, Wisconsin. Coach Bondi finally came upon the Wildcat Lodge Booth and talked with owner Tim France.
Well, the same question was asked about bringing teens up to the lodge. France’s answer was simple.
“I’m the athletic director of a high school in the UP. I also head the school’s food program. My wife is a school teacher; we have three kids of our own. At the Wildcat Lodge most of our guests are families and kids of all ages are at our lodge all summer long. So I can answer your question if we would welcome your high school club at Wildcat in one word. Yes!”
The ball started rolling and during the first week of August, the Hinsdale South Bass Fishing Club had 30 teens and chaperones at the Wildcat Lodge.
In preparation, Coach Bondi had every kid take the Illinois boating safety class offered through the IL DNR. Their certificate of completion is acceptable in Wisconsin so all of the kids could drive the rental boats. The club held several meetings to prepare for the trip and on one day back in May, I gave a seminar telling the kids all about Big Kitten, Little Kitten, and Wildcat Lakes.
The trip was a huge success. The high school anglers caught bass, walleye, and crappie. And since Big Kitten, Little Kitten, and Wildcat lakes are all Class A Muskie waters, several muskies were caught too.
Fishing with wacky worms near fallen trees near the banks brought many bass into the boats for the kids. Those who tossed a frog over the lily pads got their share of bass too. Some worked the rocky areas with a jig and craw got some nice smallmouth bass.
There aren’t many pike in these lakes but a few were caught on spinnerbaits. White spinnerbaits worked good in heavy log cover, by the lily pads and along weed edges for largemouths. A couple of the bass fishing kids were surprised with follows and catches of muskies.
Crappies on Big and Little Kitten lake were caught in about 20 feet of water around sunken brush piles. Some walleyes came off the same structure and rocky humps using light jigs and leeches. When it comes to fishing, the kids could not get enough. They fished more after dinner and threw floating minnow baits along the shores and got some decent walleyes just before dark.
These kids fished hard. It was a mad dash after breakfast for them to get on the water. They made their own bag lunches so they didn’t have to come in if they were hungry. Coach Bondi cruised the lakes constantly to check on the boys and girls. He even carried a cooler of water in his boat in case someone needed something cool to drink. Kids will be kids and of course there were a few who came in a little late for dinner. But it was a pleasure for me to see how much these kids enjoyed themselves at the Wildcat Lodge.
They were all well behaved and so appreciative of what Coach Bondi has done for them. This was an opportunity for most that they’ve never had before. Even for a few, they may never have one again. Too it was a great introduction to the Northwoods as well. I am confident that some of these kids will be coming back with their parents. Some of them, when the get older, will be returning on their own. This was the goal for Coach Bondi; to show the team members that the world of fishing has no boundaries.
From the Hinsdale South High School in Darien to the Wildcat Lodge in Boulder Junction it’s about a five and a half hour drive. That means that great fishing is not that far away.