Get after that bass: Richmond Hill fishing team’s hard work paying off

By Nathan Dominitz/Special to Prep Sports Report | May 1, 2023

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Forget almost everything you know about how high school sports operate when it comes to competitive bass fishing. Let’s use Richmond Hill as an example.

The Wildcats team, which is coed (thanks to senior Savannah Goode and 22 boys), has no home events. To host a tournament, they would need a suitable lake large enough for the 200-plus boats each trying to catch the limit of five bass of at least a minimum length in an eight-hour window.

The Wildcats have no home practices, either, in the conventional sense of afterschool hours. 

Knowledge of the lake hosting the competition is critical, so the anglers study the layout, conditions and fish species through maps and other information online in the weeks before the Saturday event. They usually arrive two days in advance to get hours on the water and test their findings at potential hot spots to further develop a strategy.

“I could go up here in the river and fish and figure out how to catch fish,” Richmond Hill coach Amy Elkins said. “But you really have to know what’s in the lake and where to go. That pre-fishing is super, super important because they will have researched where they want to go look and where they want to go fish.”

“If you’re going to be good at fishing, you have to put in a lot of work before the tournament, before you ever get on the water,” she said. “If you’re asking the bait and tackle (shop) guy on your way there, then you haven’t done enough work.”


The Wildcats traveled to the four qualifying tournaments, one each month since January, to try to advance to the GHSA state championship on May 20 at Clarks Hill Lake in Clarkesville.  

“None of these tournaments are close,” said Elkins, who has coached the team for the two seasons it has existed after the GHSA sanctioned the sport three years ago.

Elkins, who previously coached the junior varsity boys soccer team for two seasons, can’t just load up the team for a bus ride to a road game. 

The very nature of the sport requires different logistical planning. The anglers are responsible for their own boats as well as fishing equipment. That means boat trailers, usually pulled by parents in their vehicles. Each school can enter six boats (12 anglers) in the GHSA qualifiers.

Throw in the cost of fuel for the boats, as well as their vehicles, and food and multiple-night stays on the road, and it’s no wonder Elkins said: “It’s probably the most expensive sport in high school right now.”

Elkins credits great parental involvement, which also includes volunteering to serve as boat captains – a requirement for each boat to have an adult driver in addition to the two student-athletes. While rules limit a boat captain’s involvement in the actual fishing activity, RHHS has benefitted from competent captains, including longtime angler Tom Hasker, who has fishing tournament experience, and Ron Champion, a professional kayak fisherman whose son Branton is a junior on the team.

Elkins also can’t coach the anglers once they’re on the water. She and the parents who have made the road trips have to patiently wait over the course of the eight hours for them to return. There is no communication allowed during GHSA events, and thus no scoreboard to watch until the weigh-in.

“You’ve got to trust they’ll go out there and use their instincts and their talents and catch the fish,” Elkins said.

The RHHS bass fishing team is kind of a hybrid of a school and club team, in that it competes in the GHSA and separately in Georgia High School Kayak Fishing. The seasons basically overlap, with kayak fishing from February to June, many on Sundays when the GHSA is idle. Elkins, who streamlines things by making GHSA eligibility rules apply to the kayak anglers, said 10 members of her team compete in both.

The GHSA road trips are typically about five hours from school. Branton Champion said he doesn’t mind traveling to fish on the lakes.

“It’s very enjoyable,” said Champion, who with his partner, junior Jackson Behringer, finished fourth in the Student Angler Federation Georgia state championship in February and qualified for nationals in June. “You don’t have to deal with the gnats that we’ve got down here.”

There is home-water advantage for schools that regularly fish the freshwater lakes hosting qualifiers. When Champion and Behringer finished second of 252 two-person boats on Jan. 21 at Lake Seminole with a haul of 20 pounds, 4 ounces, the only team to beat them was Bainbridge High (21-6), about 25 miles away.

“We don’t make much of a fuss out of it,” Champion said. “If it’s a hard day of fishing, it’s going to be a hard day for everybody.”

Champion and Behringer improved on their fifth-place finish a year earlier at Lake Seminole, which also qualified them for state in 2022. Champion said it took the pressure off for them once they had earned a berth in this year’s state tournament.

The Wildcats had three more chances, and the team of senior Joey Moore and junior Jagger Monaco finished in the top 31 (placing 29th) of 255 boats to qualify on Feb. 18 at Lake Oconee.

Moore, a Northern California native who had fished for fun on the West Coast and competed as a high school freshman on ice hockey and water polo teams, quickly adjusted to life on the East Coast.

In Moore’s first tournament last season at Lake Seminole, he and Monaco caught only one fish all day, and Moore fell in the water doing it. The water was cold, too, he recalled.

But they later qualified for state, and they’re plotting to gain from their experience for their return to Clarkesville.

“It’s a whole different animal compared to fun fishing. Either you like it or don’t like it,” said Moore, who likes competitive fishing so much, he will go out for the team when he enrolls at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton.


“To a normal person, fishing doesn’t seem like a very competitive sport,” he continued, adding that the opposite is true. “I wouldn’t say it’s harder than most sports, but it takes a lot more patience than some other sports.”

A third RHHS team, Savannah Goode and her brother, sophomore Carson Goode, qualified on March 18 at West Point Lake with 30th place of 241 boats. Carson Goode caught the largest fish at the 2022 state tournament, Elkins said.

Unfortunately for the Wildcats, the state championship is the same day as Richmond Hill’s graduation ceremony. Elkins said Savannah Goode will miss the state competition, as will Carson to be with his family. Substitutions are not permitted.

Moore, as a senior, had the same decision to make. He chose to compete at state and celebrate his graduation with his family when he returns.

“That was not hard at all,” he said. “I’m actually going to fish and wear my cap and gown while fishing.”


According to the RHHS website, Moore, Behringer, Champion and teammates Garrick Freese, Owen Osden, Aiden Pluff, Charlie Tharin and Holdyn Udinsky have qualified for the state kayak fishing championship this summer. …

Champion was recognized when the 2023 Bassmaster High School All-State Fishing Team presented by Academy Sports + Outdoors was announced on April 18.

He was among 42 students receiving honorable mentions in addition to 52 anglers from 30 states to make the All-State team from more than 300 nominations from parents, coaches, teachers and other school officials.

The students were selected based on their success in bass tournaments, academic achievement and leadership in conservation and community service. Students enrolled in grades 10-12 with a current-year grade-point average of 2.5 or higher were eligible.

PHOTO CRDDIT: Richmond Hill High School Bass Fishing Facebook page

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The "Coach" Karl DeMasi has been teaching and coaching for the past 35 years on all levels of academia and athletics. One of his hobbies has been writing, announcing and talking about sports. DeMasi has been involved in the Savannah Area sports scene since 1995, and he created the high school magazine "The Prep Sports Report" in 2000. In 2010, the "Coach" started broadcasting The Karl DeMasi Sports Report. He's still going strong, broadcasting on Facebook live and Twitter live every Saturday morning. You gotta love it!

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