On Sundays in the spring, a group of Webster Groves High School students meet around lakes in St. Louis for competition and sharing the activity that unites them. This group is fishing club.
When fishing club started, it was made up of clashing groups of students–those who wanted to enjoy fishing with their peers, and those who just wanted some kind of club on their resume.
Frank Mandernach, teacher and sponsor of fishing club, described how fishing club worked through that tension, with the aid of the Missouri Department of Conservation, to become the fun, friendly, competitive group it is now.
“It’s kind of been a little bit difficult trying to find people who would be interested,” senior Steven Burket, one of fishing club’s founding members, said. “We were able to keep it going and find more people and get a group going. It worked out.”
The Missouri Department of Conservation started a program around two years ago with the goal of enhancing urban fishing opportunities. Around that time, several students, including Burkett, came to Mandernach about starting a fishing club. Mandernach reached out to the organization, and the group was officially created. The Missouri Department of Conservation stocks lakes with fish in the St. Louis for general use, and they set up and supervise all of the competitions that the fishing club attends.
Fishing club practices its techniques in the fall and competes in the spring. Its meetings are devoted to planning the strategy for its next competition. At competitions, three fishers and one helper from the fishing club rotate around to different fishing locations at a lake, working as a team to catch fish. At the end, a scoring system is used to declare a winner.
“Something that we have to do whenever we get a fish on the line is we have to net them… and it was crazy how immediately, once it first started and once we understood what we were doing, how we all just kind of synced up perfectly together,” junior Rebecca Mandernach said, describing the teamwork that fishing club must use in competitions. She is the only girl in the entire program that the fishing club is a part of.
Frank Mandernach said the main appeal of fishing club is that it allows teenagers to share their hobby and passion with other teenagers in a friendly competitive atmosphere. He also talked about how the competitions give teens a chance to interact with professionals and employees of the Missouri Department of Conservation who have made a career out of their love of fish. He added it opened students up to scholarship opportunities.
“I really enjoy all the people I’ve gotten to be in the club with,” Rebecca Mandernach said. “It was just cool to hang out with other people.”