The venerable Carlyle Lake in downstate Illinois proved once again to be a formidable challenge for high school bass fishermen.
With 26,000 acres of water and 2,360 pounds of fish per acre, it would seem easy for anglers, but only one team from the area ranked in the top 10 of Saturday's IHSA bass fishing state finals.
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Alden-Hebron High School from Hebron placed third.
Locally, the highest suburban team to finish was Maine West High School of Des Plaines, whose anglers matched their position last year, finishing in 13th place, with a combined total catch of 16 pounds 13 ounces.
Wheaton Warrenville South finished a disappointing 36th out of the 51 teams in the finals, dropping 15 places from last year. Their first day out hurt them, they said, as they came up empty, before catching four bass on Saturday.
"At least we caught something, so we came away satisfied," coach Art Tang said. "After the first day, we were frustrated and confused about where to find the fish. It's just a very difficult lake to fish; it's very shallow, with a muddy bottom."
Other qualifiers included St. Charles North, which came in 17th, Streamwood at 31st, with Hinsdale Central and Westmont high schools coming in 34th and 45th respectively.
Illini West High School from Carthage won the tournament, pulling up from sixth place after Friday's opener, to win the state title, by catching more than 30 pounds of bass, over the two days of fishing. Moline High School finished second with a combined total of more than 25 pounds of fish caught over the two days.
This was the second straight year IHSA officials mounted a state championship series in bass fishing, and despite working with other state high school organizations interested in the concept, they remain the only one in the country.
Bass fishing as a sanctioned high school sport drew teams to work with area fishing clubs and sport fishermen to learn the strategies on catching bass. Many, like Maine West's anglers, spent the winter practicing casting in their high school pools.
Last year, 199 high schools sent teams to sectional competitions, while this year 216 teams competed, hoping for a chance to qualify for the state tournament.
"It's still a learning experience," said Tang. "We've made it down there twice now, and we still can't figure it out."