COVINGTON, GA. – In Newton County, football is king, basketball is a close second with baseball and soccer making a case to be a more prominent part of the local sports scene conversation.
Specifically at Newton High – with a high-powered football team that regularly draws the attention of recruiters from Power Five schools, and a well-established basketball program that just happened to make one of the most high-profile hires in its history in boys head coach Charlemagne Gibbons – it can be easy to overlook other sports.
One of the hidden gems at Newton High happens to be its fishing team – yes, its bass fishing team.
They aren’t the flashiest individuals, and most of their classmates aren’t readily privy to the intricacies of their sport, but the members of the Newton High bass fishing team have carved out their lane.
The Rams’ competitive fishing team traces its origins back to 2016 with Taylor McMullen, his father and cousin JD Coltharp. That’s when the McMullens, who are lifelong fishermen, wanted to do something that would leave a mark and a legacy at their school.
Also affiliated with the team is the duo of Luke Bishop and Jackson McIntyre. And the team appreciates every opportunity it gets to spread awareness of their brand of competitive fervor among their peers.
“So many people come up to me at school, and they’re like ‘hey, I didn’t know we had a fishing team,’ and you know that’s pretty neat,” said McMullen.
After a relatively short process of paperwork and becoming official, the team registered with the Georgia Bass Federation. It wasn’t all smooth sailing, however, as the team managed to miss the first year’s tournament due to some clerical errors.
Although it may exist in relative obscurity to some across the county and the student body, the team has had relative success in its short existence. In its inaugural year, the team made it to the state tournament; in fact, the team has qualified for state regionals four times.
Earlier this year, Newton competed in a tournament at North Georgia Lake and placed fifth. For such a young team, things have moved quickly, but the Rams’ anglers know there’s a long way to go from here.
“You have to know a lot. I mean, I only started three years ago – I never tournament fished until three years ago, so I have a lot to learn,” Coltharp said. “But over the course of the three years, I’ve learned a whole lot. We would love people to come out and fish with us at Newton and help us out with the tournament. The more people, the better for us.”
However, as McMullen and Coltharp would attest to, competitive bass fishing isn’t just showing up to the lake, casting out a line and hoping the fish will bite.
Like any other sport, Newton’s bass fishing squad knows if it wants to win, there is preparation involved. And this group has it down to a science.
“It’s just a lot of knowing where to throw and what the fish have to do,” Coltharp said. “For Taylor and me, we talk a lot. Why the fish was there when we caught it, where would the fish be in that particular area that we’re in. It’s a lot of visuals [and] seeing where do you think the fish would be.
“If you think the fish would be there, why? We always try to visualize why it would be there. And figure out what they look like, so we can catch another fish on another spot that looks exactly like it.”
Practice and familiarity is the name of the game for the team, as they understand that there are several variables that can affect their chances of catching any fish.
“On the lake, you’ve got to find patterns and know what to do,” Coltharp said. “On the boat, you’ve got to talk, and you have to have a game plan before the tournament. And it’s a lot to do, but it’s a lot of fun at the same time.”
The color of water, how shallow or how deep the water is (Newton’s bunch prefers shallow, muddy waters) and the temperature of the water all determine the level of potential success the Rams’ fishermen could enjoy.
The game plan is discussed before each tournament, and when it’s time to perform, the team falls back on its preparation when things get tough.
During the competition in North Georgia, the waters were unlike what Coltharp, McMullen and company was used to as the lake was deep and clear. But the team was able to gain composure and remember its training.
“Fish what you know” is a phrase that they use to describe their game-plan when out on the lake.
McMullen says his dad, who also serves as the team’s captain, preaches that if they want to succeed, they have to be comfortable in their surroundings.
“Sometimes we go out there and try something different,” McMullen said. “But you always want to try to fish what you know. Because if you’re confident in that and you’re confident in what you’re doing, you’ll normally catch [fish].”
In May, the team competed in a tournament at Lake Hartwell in South Carolina, and even though it faced a bit of adversity in finding the type of area on the lake it's used to, the Newton team stayed poised. McMullen and Coltharp were able to place fourth out of 140-plus other fishermen.
Next for the team is a state classic in Clarks Hill June 7-8, where the Rams’ anglers will once again have the chance to show why the sport deserves the attention of the Newton County community.
“I’m expecting a good show out there Friday and Saturday,” McMullen said. “I’m expecting people to catch fish. I mean it’s gonna be some good fish weighed in. They’re biting real good right now.”