County anglers head north for state bass fishing tournament

Members of the Brighton bass fishing team will compete in the state tournament this weekend at Hubbard Lake, near Alpena. Hartland and Pinckney also have teams in a fast-growing sport. (Photo courtesy of Tom Kiefer.)
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BRIGHTON — Matt Spranger likes to fish and collect tackle.

A lot of it.

“For rods, I have, that I have for bass, about 15,” he said. “Different lengths, different actions, different reels, different speeds of reels. All of them have different types of line on it.”

His friend, Colton Fay, has a more succinct assessment.

“He’s a hoarder,” he said, grinning, with Spranger looking on sheepishly.

Matt Spranger, left, and Colton Fay model the jerseys Brighton High School bass fishing team members will be wearing this weekend at the state tournament at Hubbard Lake, near Alpena. (Photo by Tim Robinson)

Both are members of the Brighton High School bass fishing team, which will hit the road today for Hubbard Lake, near Alpena, for the Michigan BASS Nation state championship Saturday and Sunday.

Brighton is one of at least three county schools with bass fishing teams. Hartland’s Chris Bee and Alec Lipon won the state title in 2015, and Pinckney also has started a team.

“We have eight teams that are going,” Brighton coach Tom Kiefer said. “It’s probably the largest (contingent) in the state. If it’s not the biggest, it’s close.”

Fay and Spranger, both juniors at Brighton, have been fishing “since I’ve been old enough to hold a rod,” as Spranger put it.

“My dad is a pretty big fisherman,” Fay said. But the first time I remember using artificial lures was with my grandpa. I was 5 years old and we caught a lot of bass and crappie. We fished the whole day.”

Both played other sports growing up. Fay, who lived in Virginia before moving to Brighton, played baseball, while Spranger played hockey and baseball before turning his attention to fishing.

It’s the second time Brighton High School has had a fishing club. The first one, about seven years ago, fizzled out after a couple of years.

But Fay and Spranger, along with current club president Cody Johnson, talked Kiefer into being a school sponsor. Johnson, the president of the school club, played a major role in its creation.

“We had to get approval from the school, and then we had to find sponsors for the jerseys and stuff,” Fay said.

Mission accomplished.

The jerseys feature a logo with a bulldog with a hook in its mouth with crossed fishing rods behind it.

“A lot of people ask us, ‘What sport is that?'” Fay said. “When we tell them, they’re like, ‘Oh. We didn’t know you had a team.'”

That might not be the case for long. Bass fishing as a sport is growing at the pro, college, and high school levels at an astonishing rate.

“Three years ago, there were four teams in the state,” Kiefer said. “Two years ago there were eight teams. This year there will be well over 20.”

Brighton has 21 members, all boys, in its club, with 16 participating this weekend. The club, Kiefer said, isn’t closed to girls. It’s just none have signed up yet.

“We certainly would welcome any girls,” he said. “I know some women who fish in tournaments in Michigan, They could certainly (compete) just as well.”

It’s a sport that requires some stamina, being on a boat for eight hours, and focus while trying to figure out where and what the fish are biting.

“I think it’s fun trying to figure out the fish,” Fay said. “It’s a puzzle that changes every single time. The fish won’t be biting the same every single day. It’s fun trying to figure out what they’re doing and how to catch them.”

“You have to figure out what those fish want,” Spranger added, “and the challenge is not knowing what they want and trying each new baits. I like collecting all that tackle. I spend a lot of my money on tackle.”

The clubs fish mostly on lakes in Livingston County except for the state tournament, and the top finishers have a chance to compete in national tournaments later in the summer.

But, before all that, there are the logistics involved. Raising money for jerseys, hotels for the state tournament, gas, food, etc.

“It’s not a cheap sport, by any stretch of the imagination,” Kiefer said.

Competitors use family watercraft, be it bass boat or pontoon or whatever they can safely use. including Kiefer’s bass boat, which he jokingly calls “a floating tackle box.”

As for the fishermen themselves, Kiefer says they range from the advanced, like Fay and Spranger, to beginners.

“We definitely have a lot of good fishermen in the club,” he says.

Kiefer, an assistant football coach at Brighton for most of three decades, fished as a break from football while playing for Eastern Michigan and has been fishing competitively since 1996 on the BASS (Bass Anglers Sportsmens Society) circuit. His brother, Cliff, was the head football coach at Brighton from 2008-14.

Soon, Spranger said, he’ll have his driver’s license, and then a car. And he knows what’s going to be in his new vehicle.

“Once I have it, there will be rods in there every day,” he said.

Until then, he’ll keep in regular touch with Tom Kiefer.

“We talk about fishing every day,” he said. “There’s something you can learn every day from him.”

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