2021 Fishers of Men - Realtree Fishing High School Angler National Championship
The Fishers of Men National Tournament Trail (FOMNTT) is a nonprofit, nondenominational ministry whose mission is to introduce Jesus to fishermen and their families and to invite them into a relationship with Him, through bass fishing tournaments. What began in 1998 as a small four-division tournament trail with a total of 21 events through the first season has now grown into one of the largest fishing tournament organizations in the country. Membership and participation are open to anyone without regard to religion, gender, age, or race.
In late 2019, FOMNTT announced its newest product, a high school fishing series. Today, the 2021 Fishers of Men - Realtree Fishing High School Angler National Championship Event is gearing up to be held June 30-July 3 on Lake Hartwell in Anderson, South Carolina, as part of the SAF World Finals Event. The High School Fishing World Finals and National Championship Combined Event will award millions of dollars in scholarship funding.
Sports Destination Management: You announced your new high school tournament in 2019 – but then the pandemic hit.
Bobby Eads: Yes, we tried to get it started in 2020 and it was simply devastated. We did have a few events last year, but this will be our first complete season. Several groups around the country are going to be doing local and State tournaments to qualify teams to go to the event on Lake Hartwell. Each of these qualifying events will be offered in an Ultimate Bass Challenge format, which is different from the one we’re used to. In this format, you only have the fish out of water for a few minutes to weigh it. It’s a lot healthier for the fish and it allows our teams to catch as many keeper-sized fish as possible.
SDM: Is that different from the way a traditional bass fishing tournament is conducted?
Eads: Yes, it is; in a traditional tournament, only the top five fish count; in this tournament, all fish count as long as they weigh at least a pound. Everyone has an app on their phone that registers all of the team’s fish from that day.
SDM: Is that different from the way a kayak bass fishing tournament is conducted?
Eads: Yes, it is; in a kayak tournament, anglers measure their fish, record the length of the fish in inches, and take a photo to submit. In our UBC format, the anglers’ coach weighs the fish, and the weight is transferred directly to their mobile device via Bluetooth connection. The coach will then submit the weight and it immediately shows up on a “real time”, online scoreboard that is available to all of the other anglers, as well as anyone who is interested in following the event.
SDM: What has been the reaction to the new system, overall?
Eads: People love it – they say it’s their favorite way to fish competitively.
SDM: How do you find locations for championship events?
Eads: We’re always looking for championship locations. The difference with the high school series is that right now, we will join with other high school events, such as FLW’s – and that results in probably hundreds of thousands, and going into millions of dollars, in scholarship funds. Maybe one year, when I have a few years of history, I’ll be able to market a high school event on its own.
SDM: Do you promote the high school series on social media, since that is the preferred platform of the younger generation?
Eads: Yes – we are active on social media. One of our staff members is a twentysomething and is really good at marketing this.
SDM: Is there a lot of growth in the high school fishing market as a whole?
Eads: There are so many schools that are getting on board with angling right now. At the world finals, I have talked to a lot of student angler federations and they have talked about how much the sport is growing. It really has revitalized our sport. The average tournament anglers, at one time, were in their forties. Now they are much younger.
SDM: We’ve heard it said that more and more high schools are starting teams, and that it’s very inclusive.
Eads: Yes, and that is one of my favorite things about our sport. The fish don’t care if you’re tall or short, heavy or thin, boy or girl. You just need to learn about the species you are after and about the sport. Your physical attributes have nothing to do with it.
SDM: Is it widespread as a varsity sport?
Eads: There are a few states where bass fishing is a legitimate sport; in a lot of schools, it is a club. We also have homeschooled students competing.
SDM: What about the lower age groups?
Eads: We are seeing interest in the middle schools; in fact, we have even allowed teams where one person is a high school student, and one is in middle school. It gives the high schooler the chance to be a mentor. The middle schoolers aren’t eligible for scholarships yet but to have that interest makes our organization’s future a whole lot brighter.
SDM: Is FOM moving into the kayak market?
Eads: At this point, probably not. There are so many different formats for tournaments and so many different tournaments for all the species of fish. We’ve tried fishing for redfish and muskie, but we decided to stick with what we know. And really our mission.
SDM: What obstacles do you think the organization is facing right now?
Eads: Getting sponsorship can be difficult. People are a little afraid to invest in a religious organization; they are very concerned about political correctness. We are a ministry; raising and making money is not our primary goal. And the high school series is a part of our ministry as well. We can use that to share our voice with our anglers.
SDM: It seems to be working out for you.
Eads: I don’t think it’s working out because we’re tournament geniuses; I think it’s working out because God is blessing us.