By Kristi Lynn
FRUITPORT–There are many opportunities for students at the school to experience the benefits and competition of being on a “team”.
The Fruitport Fishing Club has found a way to appeal to outdoor enthusiasts and bass anglers. The all-inclusive team even has a few young women on the team.
There are no cleats, knee pads, helmets or even a ball to participate in a team sport. And, if you love the outdoors and fishing, you’ll feel right at home with the Fruitport Fishing Club.
“You don’t have to compete in any league sport,” coach Brad Vallie said. “There are plenty of opportunities outside of the MHSAA type of structured sports.” Many colleges even offer fishing scholarships, including Drury University (Missouri), Campbellsville University (Kentucky), and Bethel University (Tennessee). Michigan State University and Central Michigan University also have fishing clubs.
The Fruitport Club was born in 2019. Vallie pitched the idea for the club to the Fruitport School Board and it was enthusiastically received. It didn’t hurt when they learned that the new edition wasn’t going to cost the school a penny to run.
The team receives no funding from the school and is kept afloat by generous donations. The clubs three main sponsors are the Fruitport Conservation Club, The Storage Group of Fruitport and Westwind Construction. Although the club shirts have many other sponsors such as Johnson’s Great Outdoors of Montague, VanDyk Mortgage and Dicks Sporting Goods.
Sponsors cover tournament fees, membership fees, and team angler shirts. Each student is responsible for their own equipment costs.
“A fishing team is like a horse team,” Vallie said. “A boat equals one of these horses.”
Each team consists of two fishermen and a boat captain, who must be an adult. And obviously they need a “horse”. A boat donated and operated by generous family members and friends is essential to the success of the program.
The first year the club participated, they only had three teams and only competed in the secondary division. Today, the growing club has 15 teams. There are four high school teams and 11 college teams.
“I’ve been in bass fishing tournaments all my life,” Vallie said. “But I was lucky. I had someone to teach me. My father took me and taught me how to fish and hunt.
Not every student has a person in their life who has the time, the passion, or the equipment. The club plays a huge role in their life when a fisherman wants to pursue his passion.
Most students who join the club have a “passion for the outdoors,” Vallie said. “These are the ones who raise their hands to join us.”
Fishing is all inclusive. The club has female anglers competing with and against the
male fishermen. Two young girls competed last year in the secondary division – Mackenzie Taylor and Olivia Ward – and in the intermediate division Claire Ludlow competed.
Fruitport is not exclusive to lining up a fishing club. There are several local schools in the area that offer this unique fishing experience. Whitehall, Spring Lake, Reeths-Puffer and Grand Haven all have fishing clubs. Fremont and North Muskegon are both working on starter clubs in the near future.
“It’s a lot of work behind the scenes,” said Vallie, whose club has 501C3 status. “It’s not really that different from any travel sport.” They spend a lot of time traveling across the country and participating in a sport they love. Vallie says 90% of the help the club receives comes from family members.
There are no practices, only tournaments. The tournaments take place every Thursday evening as well as the weekends. Thursday events last 3.5 hours and weekends last 8 hours. Thursday evenings are open to college and high school teams.
The Bass Fishing Club can participate in one of 24 tournaments held during the season, which runs from late May through Labor Day.
The tournaments can be caught up and broadcast immediately. The fish are caught, weighed, measured and photographed. Points are awarded and counted towards tournament results
To qualify for the National Tournament, anglers must qualify through Michigan Bass Nation or National Bass. They can qualify either by points, by winning a state championship, or through a national bass event. The Fruitport club uses Bass Nation as a platform to qualify.
Several tournaments are sponsored by Sports Persons Ministry International (SPI), which offers three tournaments per season.
Four Fruitport teams participated in the national championships last year. Cade Calkins and Evan Ludlow qualified by winning the 2020 State Championship. Jacob Policka and Collin Jolman qualified by being runners-up in the same tournament. Brayden Vallie qualified by taking sixth place at Saginaw Bay (National Qualifier). Evan Simonis and Hunter Ross also qualified in Saginaw Bay.
There were 309 boats in the tournament. Policka and Jolman placed 93rd, Brayden Vallie was 131st, Calkins and Ludlow were 178th and Simonis and Ross finished 288th.
“There are so many life lessons to learn,” Vallie said. “You learn to budget money for one, as many students work and pay for their own equipment. You have to learn to get along as a team. You’re in a boat for eight hours straight and it’s not a big space. On a football field, you can get away from someone on that big field, but not in a bass boat. Life on the water develops life skills. It’s just a classroom with no walls or windows.
“What I really want students to learn is that there’s more to life than the daily grind,” Vallie said.
As the saying goes, “a bad day of fishing is always better than a good day of work”.