“No one can tell what a spot of time is until suddenly the whole world is a fish and the fish is gone,” Norman Maclean write in his timeless self-autobiographical collection, “A River Runs Through It.” Maclean’s book, and the subsequent movie directed by Robert Redford and starring Brad Pitt, provided a boost of recreational tourism for the Treasure State. The entire fly-fishing industry is estimated to have increased by 60% in the year following the film’s release, further cementing the relationship between picturesque “S” curves of fishing line and Montana’s trout-laden streams.
Against a storied backdrop like that, other forms of angling are rarely mentioned in connection to Montana, and most fisherfolk who grow up here cut their teeth hooking cutthroat or rainbows, usually with a fly rod.
Jack Carroll, a recent graduate of Glacier High School, initially fit that mold. He started trout fishing when he was four years old, like many young Montanans, and considers himself to have “casually loved fishing, but was not obsessed with it,” growing up.
Now, fishing is his life. But not fly fishing.
Jack Carroll is a bass fisher.
A few years ago, while attending middle school in California, Carroll joined a friend for a day of shore fishing at a local lake. He reeled in a couple of bass over the course of the morning and was immediately hooked on the new style.
“Lots of people misconceive bass fishing,” Carroll said. “People think bass are just a dumb trash fish, which is not true at all. There’s so many patterns and ways to catch these fish, and they’re also some of the smartest fish that have beaten me over and over again.”
After his first experience bass fishing in California, Carroll dove into the world of competitive bass fishing and has risen through the local and regional ranks. Now Carroll, 18, will matriculate to Tennessee’s Bethel University in the fall where he will be a member of the perennial powerhouse Bass Cats collegiate fishing team. What’s more, he’ll be attending the school on a fishing scholarship.
Carroll, along with his best friend, fellow Glacier graduate Andrew Turner, who will be fishing collegiately for Carson-Newman University in Tennessee, are just the second and third Montanans to end up in the collegiate bass fishing world.
“Jack first told us about wanting to bass fish in college when he was a sophomore, and we have no experience in the bass fishing world, so we definitely had our reservations,” Carroll’s mother, Rachel, said. “It’s not the usual way to get to college, and especially being from Montana — coaches weren’t going to find them here, so Jack and Andrew had to search them out.”
Carroll says that when he started getting into the tournament bass fishing scene, he heard rumors it was possible to fish in college — more than 600 schools have registered clubs — and as a sport outside of the NCAA, opportunities abound for successful young bass fishers to receive scholarships, sponsorship opportunities and a route to the professional bass fishing circuit.
Carroll introduced Turner to the bass fishing world in 2020, and the two have since traveled around the western United States to compete in tournaments. Speaking with the Beacon recently, Carroll and Turner were en route back to Montana with a new boat in tow, preparing for the slate of summer tournaments.
The friends have often been the youngest fishers in many of the larger tournaments they’ve competed in, and, as minors, couldn’t even operate their own boat in some championships due to tournament rules. That didn’t stop them from spending all their time off from school and work (and often whole paychecks) traveling to more competitions.
“There’s just so much time and dedication that goes into this,” Turner said. “But it’s so much fun and such a challenge that I can’t imagine not continuing on the competitive side.”
While many bass fishing tournaments vary slightly in their rules, most have a five-bass limit, with points awarded by weight of the live fish at the end of the tournament. The challenge of the sport derives from the differences in each waterway, types of simulated bait as well as an overall strategy for how to approach the same lake with dozens of other fishing boats.
“There’s so many different patterns and ways to catch these fish,” Carroll said. “There’s a thousand different hatches you can try to copy, but really you have to understand that while bass will eat any sort of bait source, they’ll rarely go for everything on a single day.”
Going to school in the south — where most bass fishing club teams are located — will bring with it a whole new set of waterways, bait patterns and fishing partners to learn from. As both Turner and Carroll will be going to school in Tennessee, they will often be fishing against each other.
“This is just a sport that makes you want to devote your life to it,” Carroll said. “It’s both our plans to try to pursue the pro circuit after college. You can make a living just from bass fishing competitions, and that’s plan A after college. Take it up to a whole other level.”
Carroll and Turner both want to see more young Montanans get hooked on bass fishing and point to the Montana Student Angler Federation (SAF), the youth division of the Montana Bass Federation, as a starting point. The SAF meets monthly in the Flathead Valley and introduces kids to fishing techniques, sportsmanship, and conservation, as well as puts on four statewide events.
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