Estimated 2,500 people present at High School Fishing Championships

Vernon County Health Department leaders say they weren't aware of the event until Wednesday

STODDARD, Wis. (WKBT) – An estimated 2,500 people from all over the country are in our area for the high school fishing championships, and that is raising concerns about the spread of COVID-19.

Leaders at the Vernon County Health Department say they only learned of the event being held in Stoddard Wednesday, which was the first day of the tournament.

However, the event is going on with safety precautions strongly encouraged.

“We offer the gloves, and the masks, and the hand sanitizer, and the scrubs, and the wipes and anything that the anglers need,” Bass Federation national senior tournament director Randy Sullivan said. “We have all that stuff provided for the spectators as well.”

T.J. Edwards is a lifelong fisherman.

“It’s all I ever loved to do,” Edwards said. “It’s just ain’t nothing else like it.”

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Edwards, left, holding a large mouth bass with his fishing teammate.

He is a high school senior from north Mississippi, and is just one of more than 900 anglers reeling in their best catch at the High School Fishing Championships.

“We drove 16 hours up here,” Edwards said. “It’s the first time I’ve ever been this far up north in my life.”

The tournament was originally going to be held in La Crosse.

“A week ago, the city of La Crosse said that they had some new COVID cases and that they were shutting everything back down,” Sullivan said. “We were basically left with nothing.”

Sullivan says the organization had to look for back-up options.

“The people here at Stoddard were like, ‘yeah we’d love to have you guys here,'” Sullivan said. ‘”If you can do the social distancing thing, and help and us and work with us, we’d be glad to work with you guys.’ And they have just been out of the way.”

Anglers are lining up to weigh in their fish one at a time to limit the spread of COVID-19 as much as possible.

“To weigh their fish as they wait in line, we’ve moved it now back where we only put two people, one on each side, and they’re separated by a cellophane wall so that they can’t be right in front of each other,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan says the organization is encouraging, but not requiring safety precautions.

“Now if the government was to say it’s mandatory, then we’d have to comply, and do that kinda stuff,” Sullivan said.

Edwards is taking his own precautions as well.

“We sanitize every time we get gas and all of that,” Edwards said. “Stay real clean and keep our distance away real good.”

The tournament may have been on the hook to be cancelled, but Edwards is relieved he isn’t being caught empty handed his final year.

“Yeah, I’m just glad it got moved,” Edwards said. “And it’s been real fun fishing up here.”

Sullivan says anglers and their families are staying in hotels in La Crosse, which have been booked for almost a year.

High schoolers from up to 33 states are participating, including as far as California.

The championships finish up on Saturday.