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OUTDOORS: Mitchell County bass anglers turning heads across Georgia

Kyle Parks, above, is a 2012 Baconton Charter grad who recently won the Georgia state bass fishing title with Westwood’s Tyler Classon. (john.millikan@albanyherald.com)

Kyle Parks, above, is a 2012 Baconton Charter grad who recently won the Georgia state bass fishing title with Westwood’s Tyler Classon. (john.millikan@albanyherald.com)

LOOKING AHEAD: Darton Bass Fishing Club Fundraiser

When: Aug. 25, 6:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., hourly weigh-in.

Where: Cromartie Beach Landing, Albany

What: Bass fishing tournament to benefit and promote Darton College’s Bass Fishing Club.

Info: Big bass tournament with weigh-in every hour and two winners each hour. $100 gift cards to first place every hour, $50 to second place and $200 to overall winner. Entry fee is $50.

MORE INFO: To register, call Ken Parks at (229) 347-0046. To assist with Kyle Parks and Tyler Classon’s regional tournament fees and expenses, call Jimmy Troxell at (229) 886-4087.

Online: For more information on high school and college bass fishing, go online to

<p>www.flwoutdoors... or www.highschoolfis...>

ALBANY — Kyle Parks got hooked on bass fishing in high school — and hasn’t stopped casting since.

Now Parks, a freshman entering Darton State College, and his father want to help take the sport they love to a new level in schools around Southwest Georgia. But first Parks and a fellow angler have more work to do on the water this fall.

Parks, a recent graduate of Baconton Charter, and rising Westwood sophomore Tyler Classon will be fishing in the Southeastern Conference Championship on Sept. 29 at Lake Wylie on the border of the Carolinas for a shot at the next bass fishing national title.

Parks and Classon, who have dubbed their team the “Flint River Bassmasters”, will compete against high school state champions from seven other southeastern states for the honor after they were crowned Georgia champs earlier this year on Lake Sinclair with a 14-pound, nine-ounce bag limit of five bass.

Parks, who also fishes in the nationwide Walmart Bass Fishing League, picked up the sport of bass fishing just a few years ago, but it didn’t take him long to master the technique.

“I really didn’t grow up fishing at all,” said Parks, who is currently ranked 24th out of 169 anglers in the BFL. “About 14, I had a guy down the road from me (in Mitchell County) that fishes in tournaments, and we went over to his house and started learning from him.”

Each high school team, which can be formed by students from different schools — as was the case with Parks and Classon — also needs a coach to run the motor at tournaments and assist with locating the fish on unfamiliar water. Parks found a good one in veteran angler Jimmy Troxell, who’s been into catching largemouth for more than four decades. Troxell was more than happy to help a younger fisherman succeed at a sport he only dreamed of competing in at the high school level.

“I’d have given anything if they’d have had this when I was in high school,” Troxell said of the high school bass fishing league. “I’d probably still be in high school.”

Troxell’s fish-finding experience will be a key to helping Parks and Classon locate the bite in late September at the Southeast Regionals.

“He kind of breaks down the lake for me,” Parks said of Troxell. “He’s really good. A lot of times he can find the fish and the structure. He pinpoints the fish, and I know what to do after that.”

Parks and Classon defeated the reigning national champions from at McIntosh High School in Peachtree City in the spring to earn a berth at the regional competition and are one of only a handful of bass fishing clubs from high schools in South Georgia, along with Tift County High and Valdosta High.

The Parks, though, want to change that.

“Public awareness more than anything,” Kyle’s father, Ken, said of the lack of bass fishing teams in schools below the gnat line. “I don’t think anybody knows about it. There’s not much below Macon.”

Added Kyle: “We’ve got to get more people involved.”

All that’s needed for a school to start a fishing club is for two members to join The Bass Federation and sign up for tournaments, Ken said. A boat and volunteer coach is also needed, but from that point any school can compete in tournaments like the one Parks and Classon won to reach near national prominence.

The sport is gaining traction, though. Ken said he estimated the participating teams at the state level doubled from last year, although the number remains relatively small at around 25 teams. If Kyle and his teammate win the Southeast Regional in September, they’ll advance to face the four other regional winners nationwide next year for the national bass fishing title and a shot at $5,000 in college scholarships each.

Bass fishing on the college level is a different story. Although it’s still considered a club sport, major colleges around the country are serious about their finesse worms and crankbaits. Nearly all four-year universities in the southeast have competing teams, and their regional and national tournaments are broadcast annually on ESPN and other sports networks.

That’s where Kyle and others want to make a difference locally at Darton under the direction of the college’s student activities program. Still in the beginning phases, the bass

fishing club at Darton is trying to get off the floor by bringing in more members this year. Mike Harbuck, assistant director of student activities at Darton, will serve as the bass club’s advisor after it was chartered last year.

The goal, at least initially, is to get the program up and running by entering competitions, and that’s where Kyle and fellow Baconton Charter grad and friend, Tyler Purvis, come in. Both Parks and Purvis met this week with Harbuck to discuss the bass club’s future.

“We don’t have the numbers yet, but I’d like to see them compete and do well in (fishing) competitions,” Harbuck said.

Of the nearly 6,000 students at Darton, the hope is at least a small percentage would be interested in bass fishing tournaments but may not know about it until now. Harbuck said he wants to help any interested anglers get involved with FLW and fish the bass tournament trail Georgia Southern University schedules annually.

“There’s maybe (6,000) students (at Darton), and 20 may bass fish and not even know there’s a club here,” said Ken who is in the process of organizing a local tournament this month on the Flint River to help raise awareness.

Similar Georgia colleges like Georgia Southwestern, ABAC, Georgia Southern, Columbus State, LaGrange College, Young Harris and others are already involved in the bass fishing circuit.

Kyle, who won a BFL tournament earlier this year at Lake Seminole, has already helped to lay the groundwork, but there’s still much to be done in order to get bass fishing clubs on the map.

“I want to (fish professionally) for a living,” he said. “It’s a lot of work, though.”

The bait, however, is out there. And all Kyle Parks wants to do is set the hook.