Fishing excellence leads to college scholarship offer for Illinois teen

Dustin Demack was about 5 years old when he learned how to fish. This fall, the sport will help him pay for books and classes as he pursues his associate degree in general education at Kankakee Community College.

The 2017 Momence High School graduate received a $500 scholarship through the school’s bass fishing booster club. The yearly scholarship goes to a senior on the team who exhibits strong academic standing, as well as dedication to community service and environmental protection, along with fishing skills.

“It was surreal hearing my name called during the end-of-the-year ceremony,” Demack recalled. “I was thinking, ‘Holy cow. I just won a scholarship for fishing.’ That money is going to come in handy this fall.”

Demack, who one day wants to become a conservation officer with the Department of Natural Resources, was a sophomore when the school’s bass fishing program started. As a freshman, he played baseball, football and golf. Once the fishing program launched, he dropped baseball and football, sticking with golf and fishing for the remainder of his high school career.

“I knew I loved the outdoors, fishing and hunting,” Demack said. “It was awesome that it became a school sport.”

The Illinois High School Association sanctioned bass fishing as an organized school activity in 2009. Since then, schools throughout the state have been launching programs. In addition to Momence, Manteno, Herscher, Bishop McNamara, Braidwood and Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School all have teams.

Competitions normally last eight hours with two fishermen to a boat and a limit of five bass per boat. Similar to all sports, it has an art to it.

“It’s not just casting a line and hoping you catch something,” Demack said. “You have to judge the cloud cover, how high the sun is, what lure you’re using and so on. You have to know what you’re doing.”

All that high school practice has come in handy for Demack during this year’s Kankakee River Fishing Derby. He was in first place on the big board’s largemouth bass category at 4 pounds, 6 ounces with three days to go.

Though the river runs through Demack’s family’s 32-acre property in rural Momence, he has go-to places all over. That being said, he wouldn’t reveal where he caught his lunker of a largemouth. No fisherman does that during a competition.

“The water I was fishing was really clear,” he said. “I saw a dark blob approaching. When it hit, I knew it was a decent-size catch. I weighed it in and released it. I just feel like giving it another day and, hopefully, catching it when it gets bigger.”

Demack intends on transferring to Southern Illinois University or Murray State University to study wildlife management once he earns his associate degree from KCC. By the way, both those colleges have fishing teams.

“He’s a good, Christian kid who does a lot to help the environment,” said Doug Duncan, owner of Bordertown Guns and a volunteer coach for the Momence High School bass fishing team. “He’s caught a great largemouth. I can definitely see him catching some hogs at the college level.”