As if Gordon Lee High School hasn't had enough success in recent years in Georgia state competition, ninth-grader Mason Sims from Chickamauga is taking success in his sport worldwide.
Sims is third in the youth rankings and eighth overall, including adults, by Trout Legend for all competitive trout anglers in North America, and he qualified for the United States Youth Fly Fishing Team in a weekend event at Canton, N.C., two weeks ago. That doesn't get him on the competition team for the youth world championships this July in Ireland, but it will allow him to try for a spot in next year's youth worlds in Poland.
He'll be going to Ireland anyway.
"I'll be there to watch and support my USA team," Sims said this week.
Six young anglers for each participating country will cast for brown and rainbow trout for three days in lakes and streams of two Irish provinces. The opening ceremony is scheduled for the Carrickdale Hotel in Dundalk on July 21; the closing ceremony will have Hillsborough Castle as the backdrop on July 26.
Sims' inclusion on the 12-member U.S. team came from his competitive success as part of the North Carolina youth team, of which four of the top five members live in Georgia.
"Some of the best fly anglers in the Southeast work with that North Carolina team," said Roland Bohannon, Sims' grandfather and the man who introduced him to the sport. "In 2011 the North Carolina fly fishing team was No. 1 in the country. Mason joined their youth team at the end of 2011."
Bohannon had his grandson fishing in the Nantahala River, still one of Mason's favorite streams -- because of the challenge.
"It's unlike any other river. The fish are very picky, and they eat flies very subtly," Sims said. "When they eat off your line, it's like something barely ticks the end of it. But that conditions me. By getting used to fishing for harder fish, normal fishing becomes easy."
Some northern Georgia streams aren't very difficult because the trout are stocked and not as clever, he said, but he's competed some on the Toccoa River and he's been to Frog Hollow at Dahlonega -- "that's a very good place," he said -- and to Dukes Creek in Smithgall Woods State Park.
"That stream is very challenging," Sims said. "I would go there more, but you can fish there only three days out of the week."
He also fishes the Elk River above Tims Ford in Tennessee. That's where he got his earliest preparation beyond the back yard.
"My son [Mason's uncle] and I used to go to Colorado," Bohannon related, "and when Mason was 8 or 9 years old I told him I'd take him fly-fishing if he'd learn to cast."
Sims eagerly did that.
"We went to the Elk River a lot that summer," he said. "My main goal was to go on a guided float trip on the Colorado River. That was my takeoff point. Fly-fishing was it for me after that."
What does he like so much about it?
"It's hard to put into words," he said, "but that feeling of competition when you're out on the river and you're going insane trying to catch as much as you can -- that's just incredible. You have to determine what the fish want -- what type of flies they want, and everything else -- and it's always different."
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