Area Youngster Aiming for (Another) Trout Fishing Championship
Lake Junior in Chattanooga was surrounded by trout fishermen Sunday afternoon, anglers casting their lines in hopes of luring one of a thousand rainbow trout stocked by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency last week.
But in the center of the lake Sunday, floating alongside the sheet of ice that covered much of the lake, was one lone angler in a belly boat, legs dangling in the frigid water casting with a fly rod. They might have recognized his skill with a fly rod, but the shoreline anglers still had no idea they were watching a world champion at work.
Mason Sims, a 17-year-old Junior at Gordon Lee High School, is counted among trout fishing’s elite. Last summer, as a member of the United States Youth Fly Fishing Team, Sims and his fishing partners brought back a gold medal from Poland, where they fished in the 13th Annual FIPS-Mouche Youth World Fly Fishing Championships. Beating out teams from nine other countries, it was actually the second world championship gold medal for Sims.
“Ever since we’ve kind of been living on Cloud Nine in a sense,” said Sims Sunday.
The young man was at Lake Junior practicing for a February competition at Callaway Gardens. Floating alongside the ice, Sims seemed oblivious to the near-freezing temperature. Lake Junior is a long way from a picturesque Montana trout stream. However watching the young man’s skill with a fly rod was like watching a scene from the famous movie, “A River Runs Through It.” A well-executed fly cast is poetry in motion. And for people like Sims, actually catching a fish is secondary to the act of fishing.
“My goal in being out here today was to dial in some of my lake skills and get ready for the tournament coming up.”
The youngster picked up his first fly rod, a $20 outfit from Walmart, when he was eight years old. His grandfather told him if he learned to cast well enough, he would take him on a trip to fish the Colorado River.
“It took me a long time. Several months in fact to where I could cast 30 or 40 feet,” said Sims. “We went out to Colorado that summer and it was a blast. It was just incredible. We caught a lot of fish and some big fish. I still wasn’t that serious about it, but when I was 11 or 12 we went to Montana and I met some guys that guided 365 a year, tied their own flies and that was the kickoff point. I got obsessed.”
Bass tournaments are all the rage in our area. Sims says he has fished some bass tournaments, and appreciates the competition and the intensity of any fishing competition. He says trout fishing competitions however, often take it the next level.
“In fly fishing it’s a whole lot more of a mind game,” said Sims.” In bass tournaments you’re usually on the lake fishing alone. You usually can’t watch your competition. But in fly fishing competitions you’re often actually in the boat with your competitors, or if you’re not in the boat you can see them on the lake or river. So if you’re watching somebody else and they’re catching a fish every other cast, that can get in your head pretty good. So it’s a lot of mind games. You’ve got to train yourself to overcome it.”
Sims fishes with Team North Carolina. Living in Chickamauga, Georgia, the young man has to travel long distances to prime trout water. His family makes sure that happens however. There is little doubt that fly fishing for trout will always factor into the young man’s lifestyle, if not his career.
“If at all possible I’d like to get a (college) fly fishing scholarship,” he said.
In recent years many, or most colleges, such as Dayton’s Bryan College, have bass fishing teams and are starting to offer scholarships for young bass anglers .
“There’s a slim chance (for me) right now because not many colleges offer fly fishing scholarships. It’s like the very early stages of bass fishing. But my long-term goal would be to get a (fly fishing) scholarship, go to college, major in youth ministry and go from there.”
He has another goal as well, however.
“I’m a world champion as a USA Youth Team member right now. But I would like to become the individual world champion. That would be like the ultimate goal.”
Watching Sims floating in the ice-covered waters of Lake Junior, there was little doubt of the young man’s commitment and the likelihood that he will achieve whatever fly fishing goal he sets for himself.
As we parted ways, Sims implored, “I’m sure there are others like me who would enjoy what fly fishing and competitions have to offer. I hope they’ll check out the website and find out how to qualify.”