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IHSA bass fishing state championship taken by storms

An enormous wall cloud hangs sky near Carlyle Lake second day IHSA bass fishing state championship 2011. | Dale Bowman

An enormous wall cloud hangs in the sky near Carlyle Lake on the second day of the IHSA bass fishing state championship in 2011. | Dale Bowman

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Updated: August 15, 2013 6:34AM

Storms and years blend together at a certain point.

Was it the year the 8-inch branch thudded to the ground next to my tent at Eldon Hazlet State Park? Or the year a massive wall cloud rolled over Carlyle Lake just after dawn? Or this May when the tornado sirens had a bunch of us packed in and around the cement-block restroom building at the Army Corps of Engineers Dam West campground?

The Illinois High School Association has weathered some storms, literally and figuratively, in the first five years of its world’s-first state championship for high school bass fishing.

But after five years of storm interruptions of the state championship on Carlyle, it’s time for some alternatives — not just for the safety of the kids, coaches and fans but for the sheer mechanics of a running state championship.

This year was the tipping point. Storms not only interrupted the championship, as they had every previous one, but they also shortened it to one day for the first time.

Coaches and parents, especially those in northern Illinois, have had enough. Carlyle is a hell of a long way to drive to only get a day of fishing in. Even those of us who live south have at least a four-hour drive. Regular state qualifiers such as Grant and Zion-Benton have closer to a six-hour drive.

Part of the issue is that northern Illinois has an alternative example of how well run a major tournament can be run. The District 230 tournament series is better run in some respects and under tougher conditions than the state championship.

I do not know of another lake in Illinois with as ideal on-land logistics as Carlyle. There are cabins, camping, hotel rooms and a restaurant, all within walking distance of the launch and weigh-in site. And the town supports the event. But I can think of at least three others that come close: Rend Lake, Lake Shelbyville and Braidwood Lake. As bass fisheries, they are on par with or better than Carlyle. Logistically, all three come close to Carlyle in being able to handle a state championship.

One idea I think should be considered as IHSA officials and the coaches advisory committee discuss options is the possibility of moving the state championship around Braidwood, Carlyle, Shelbyville and Rend, or some combination of the four.

More likely it is a timing issue as much as anything. From the beginning, those of us who fish in northern Illinois wondered if IHSA officials had any clue what bass fishing can be like the third week of April in northern-tier counties when the sectionals are held. It can be brutal or impossible.

This year was a prime example of that problem, too. Multiple sectionals were postponed or displaced by flooding. Then, many had one or no boats advance to state instead of the usual three.

To have no or only one kid out of several dozen weigh in a keeper in a sectional is not acceptable. That needs to change.

Maybe it is simply a tweak as simple as moving sectionals to the first Friday in May, then holding the state championship the next weekend. Or, as others have suggested, holding sectionals later in May and waiting to hold the state championship in the fall.

Change needs to come. This spring was not acceptable at the sectional level or the state level.

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