BEACON FALLS — A random Facebook message during the dog days of summer landed a local teenage fisherman in an upcoming national competition.
Dylan Napoleone, a Beacon Falls native and senior founder of the Woodland Fishing Club, will travel to Priest River, Idaho, next week to compete in the Big Bass Junior Championship. He will represent Connecticut in an event that will feature about 50 of the top junior anglers in America.
It all happened quickly for Napoleone, who learned about the tournament with only a week left in the qualification window thanks to a message from a stranger.
“I hadn’t even heard of this event until the night before I put myself into it,” Napoleon said. “When I got the message from Ron, a random guy that I hadn’t talked to before, I was like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it, why not?’ At first, it wasn’t really a huge deal to me, honestly. I just thought it would be a cool opportunity.”
Napoleone said he logged 10-hour days on the water during the ensuing week, trying to catch a fish big enough that he could submit through the online competition. His best fish was an 18 1/2-incher whose weight formula checked in at 3.49 pounds.
“After I caught my qualifying fish, which was in the middle of the week, I still wasn’t satisfied,” Napoleone admitted. “I just couldn’t stop fishing for a monster, because you never know, someone in Connecticut could have caught something bigger.”
Although Napoleone said that wasn’t the top fish he’s ever hooked, it was enough to win the state’s qualifying competition and earn a trip to the national competition, which is sponsored by Bassmaster.
The month and a half since he sealed his spot has been a whirlwind of preparation. In addition to securing sponsorships to offset his expenses for attending the event, he’s exhausted every resource he could find to learn about Lake Pend Oreille, the site of the Oct. 19 competition.
“I’ve been talking to locals, calling guide services, and talking to employees of fishing stores to gain information,” said Napoleone, who is adding some new techniques to his repertoire to adapt to the new environment. “I’ve learned a lot about the lake and how the fish will be feeding, as well as where they’ll be in the water, and I’m very happy about that. I have a good idea of the lake and how I plan to fish it in order to hopefully take home the top spot.”
Napoleone and his father will arrive in Idaho on Wednesday to get acclimated to the area. He’ll attend a dinner for the participants Oct. 18 before the eight-hour competition the following morning. Two competitors will fish from each boat that hits the water at 7 a.m. At the conclusion of the event, the angler who catches the single heaviest fish will win the championship.
There are more than $200,000 worth of prizes at stake, including a $30,000 boat and fishing scholarships to Bethel University in McKenzie, Tenn.
Napoleone’s goal is simple.
“I fished my heart out during that qualification week, gained a huge following and support system for this tournament, and I’m going out there to win,” Napoleone said. “I want that top spot. I’m not going to let myself or the people who have supported me down. This is not just for myself. It’s for my family, everyone who has sponsored me and supported me, and also those people at school who like to bust my chops for loving fishing.
“You’d be surprised, some people like to mess with me about the sport of fishing. Nobody realizes that you can make a living from this sport. This tournament is my opportunity to shine, and I expect to make the most of it.”
Napoleone, who has represented Woodland in several high school events, plans on attending a college where he can join a fishing team and continue his progression toward a fishing career. He’s already been in touch with schools in Illinois and Kentucky about possibilities for next year.
But before any of that happens, he’s got bigger fish to fry.
“Thank you to everyone, including sponsors, who will be supporting me for this tournament,” said Napoleone, who said he will share live broadcast links and updates from his experience on his Facebook page. “I am very thankful for the community that I live in and I plan to represent the state of Connecticut to the best of my abilities while out in Idaho.”