By Anna Grace Moore

Photos by Anna Grace Moore & Contributed

Lee Seewald never claimed to be a professional fisherman. In fact, he only ever fished for fun growing up, but everything changed when his son, Gavin Seewald, 16, caught his first fish at age 12.

Gavin fell in love with the sport, soon joining the Hoover High School junior anglers when he was in eighth grade.

“We started fishing four years ago in a borrowed boat, and I was just a random dad with very little knowledge,” Lee says, chuckling. “I was just willing to take two kids out on a boat and fish a tournament.”

Lee started captaining Gavin and his fellow angler, Judson Touchstone, 16, in tournaments to spend more time with them. He eventually assumed the role of coach when the fishing team’s coach stepped down in 2018.

Now, the team consists of 22 anglers with 18 senior anglers and four junior anglers–a mix of boys and girls. Gavin and Judson, especially, have proven themselves, leading the way for their team to follow.

From June 23-24, 2023, Gavin and Judson competed in the Alabama Student Angler Bass Fishing Association ”ASABFA” State Classic in Eufaula, Alabama. They came in seventh place, with their catches weighing in at 21.33 pounds, including their largest catch–a seven-pound bass. This placing qualified them to compete in the Strike King Bassmaster High School Championship, which was held from July 27-28, 2023, on Lake Hartwell in Anderson, South Carolina.

Notably, this tournament consisted of 481 teams representing 35 states and Canada as well. Nine hundred and sixty-two anglers competed in this highly-anticipated competition, which is unique in that most tournaments only average around 200 teams, Lee says.

“We honestly never dreamed we’d qualify as sophomores,” Lee says. “Our goal has been to qualify by our senior year. That is a long shot. It’s very difficult to get to the high school championship.”

And yet, Gavin and Judson have done just that. Having never fished on Lake Hartwell before, the anglers still placed 151 out of 481 teams, finishing well above average for their ages.

Hoover High School alumni Connor Neal, who first fished the Bassmaster Classic in 2018, captained Gavin and Judson’s boat in this past tournament, which was a wonderful full-circle story for all of them, Lee says.

Now back in school, rising juniors Gavin and Judson are already hard at work, planning to fish another 14 tournaments this season. Each angler practices on his own time, spending crucial time on the water and studying the water’s currents and depths.

Lee says the anglers prioritize studying online graphs and maps that show the contour lines of the bodies of water they’ll be fishing on. Specifically, they look to see where there’s any underwater humps or pulls where fish could travel.

“Fish are unique in that they migrate,” Lee says. “One time of the year, you may find them in six inches of water. A few months later, they could be in 30 feet of water. They’re hard to find.”

On average, the anglers could spend a couple of hours each night for weeks on-end, marking places on their graphs to visit and fish the following mornings.

“You have to do your homework before you get on the lake,” Lee says. “Every tournament we have, we go to the lake to ‘pre-fish.’ We will fish, but more often than not, we will drive out on the lake, seeing the conditions that weigh into where the fish are going to be. In practice, you’re not trying to catch fish, you’re trying to locate them.”

The Hoover Fishing Team most often fish the ASABFA and Alabama Bass Nation “ABN” trails, which each consist of four tournaments. Though it is not a school-sponsored trail, several anglers have also fished the Airport Marine trail, too.

When asked how he has adapted as a coach, Lee says he knew virtually nothing about different trails or just how much work it takes to even locate fish when he first started. Fishing presents new challenges and will often teach one life lessons, he says.

“Without perseverance and patience, you’re never going to succeed at this sport,” Lee says.

Lee says he did always know, however, that it was important for him to be present for his son, which when Lee became a team coach, coincidentally made him a father figure to 21 other anglers, too. He has taken each day one day at a time, and he says he has loved every minute of it.

“It’s some of the best time that you could ever spend with your kid,” Lee says. “I think it’s a wonderful sport for anybody. You don’t have to be good at fishing to enjoy fishing.”

Reflecting on becoming a fishing coach, Lee jokes that while this role has been one of his greatest joys in life, it has also made him very sleepy. Overall, he says fishing has taught him not to give up on things just because they are hard.

After his first season coaching, Lee says he was ready to quit, but he watched his anglers persist and continue to drive themselves to become better. If anything, his anglers were more of an inspiration to him than he may ever be to them, Lee says, chuckling.

“If you work hard, you can do it, and that’s more clear in this sport than I have ever seen,” Lee says.

All it takes to make a difference is one person willing to take a chance and possibly, try something new. For the Hoover anglers, Lee will always be that wonderful reminder of how much a little faith and a whole lot of patience weigh when it comes to fishing for excellence.

Those interested in learning more about the Hoover Fishing Team can visit the Hoover Fishing Team’s Facebook page @Hoover Bass Fishing Team.