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Area high school nets its first fishing team

Updated: May. 27, 2021 at 10:49 PM CDT
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PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Chipley High School excels in several sports, and it’s hoping it can add one more to the list.

“I got a couple of friends and I went to them and we all decided we wanted to have a fishing team since we had a football team and everything,” said Cray Holley, a freshman at Chipley High.

That’s right, the Tigers are only the second high school in the area to feature a fishing team. We’re told Liberty County was the first.

“The FWC contacted some schools and they offer a $500 grant to get kids interested in the sport of fishing, and this was a natural fit for me and for our community,” said Will Holley, a teacher at Chipley High and the sponsor of the team named the Finatics.

Twelve Tigers bit on the chance to join the team hook, line, and sinker.

“Definitely not very common for people to have a fishing team at their school so it comes as a shock to some people but I’m Just glad we got it,” said freshman angler Chay Wells.

“I love fishing and I love hunting, but fishing, it’s a lot of hard work, but it’s a lot of fun,” said Cray.

“We think it’s going to grow,” said Will Holley, who is also Cray’s dad. “We hold these kids to the same standard that any club or sport would hold kids to. They have to maintain the grade point average. They have to maintain the disciplinary record in order to be a part of it, just like they would any other club or sport at Chipley High School.”

Will Holley says the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission really stresses the importance of conservation along with getting kids out on the lake. The team had to take part in a conservation project as a condition of receiving the $500 grant.

“We made the kids and Ag class made some monofilament recycling bins that we’re going to put up at different places in Washington County that don’t have those,” said Will. “So to give people a place to put the fishing line that they need to dispose of properly.”

This past Saturday eight team members were out on Porter Pond in Chipley competing in a tournament against anyone who wanted to enter.

“I was hoping to catch some bass today, but it was a tough day on the water and we only got a couple,” said Cray.

“I think the kids need to see that. It’s a realistic part of angling. That’s why they call it fishing and not catching,” said Will. “And the wind beat us up pretty good today, but they still had a good time, good camaraderie.”

“We ended up catching about 20 in all,” said Wells. “But we only could keep about seven because of size.”

So how does Wells believe his catch will fare during the weigh-in?

“I feel pretty confident about the big two that we caught,” said Wells. “So yes sir, they’re about two, two and a half [pounds each], which is pretty good for this lake.”

Unfortunately, Wells and his partner did not place for individual fish size but their total haul weighed 7.6 lbs., good enough for fifth place and a cooler as the prize. But the even bigger reward isn’t material.

“It’s pretty cool. We get to compete, go head to head and we get to hang out,” said Wells. “It’s all about fun.”

“I just like hanging out with my friends, you know,” said Cray. “It’s just a lot of fun to be able to come and join together. We don’t all have the same classes together and we’re all in different grades so we get to join together and fish together. That’s what we all love to do.”

“I’ve had a great number of kids already wanting to know what they got to do to be on it [the team] next year,” said Will. ”So we think that’s a very good start.”

And that just may be the biggest prize they reel in in the end.

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