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Dover teen hooked on professional fishing, angles for spot in the big leagues

Meredith Willse
York Dispatch

Nicholas Goodling took an interest in fishing at around 12 years old, and now, a few years later, he's angling with the pros in the big leagues. 

The 18-year-old Dover resident competed in Major League Fishing's Toyota Series Championship Competition earlier this month in Alabama. He didn’t do as well as he wanted, but that won't slow him down as he pursues a career in fishing. 

Six years ago, Goodling was hanging out with his friend, Benny Eyler, when the friend suggested they fish in creeks near Goodling’s house. That’s when he realized he liked fishing. 

Nick Goodling poses for a photo during the opening day of the Major League Fishing's Toyota Series National Championships. Duane Goodling photo

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Eyler suggested Goodling join the local junior bass club, which at the time had recently formed. Goodling did, and he started competing. But he almost quit after his first competition because he didn't catch any fish. 

“I didn’t want to keep doing it," Goodling said. "I wanted to quit.”

The teen thought it was boring compared to his other experiences. 

“Fishing in creeks, you’re always catching fish, just one after another,” Goodling said. 

Competitive bass fisher Nicholas Goodling, 18, is shown seated in a 21-foot Bumble Bee bass boat, that belongs to his employer Rick Anderson, at HawgHead Marine and Tackle Center in Warrington Township, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022. Goodling began fishing about six years ago and is working toward his career in professional bass fishing. Dawn J. Sagert/The York Dispatch

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Creek fishing was also different than the couple of times he went fishing with his father when he was younger. It involved small fish, which didn't interest him.

Goodling only fishes for bass because they are bigger fish. He will occasionally try saltwater fishing, but it’s not the same, he said. 

“It’s just something about bass fishing,” he said. “It’s different.”

The sport requires special baits and anglers can only fish at certain times of the year. 

Goodling also didn’t know at his first competition that the lake he was on wasn’t great for fishing. He now knows that even people who knew what they were doing struggled during that particular event. 

He decided to stick with it for just one more competition, which at the time occurred once or twice a month, and he won the next one.  

Goodling then jumped into learning and studied anything he could find, especially by watching videos on YouTube on his phone. Whenever his father, Duane Goodling, would check to see what his son was watching, it was always fishing.

Competitive bass fisher Nicholas Goodling, 18, adds price stickers to inventory at HawgHead Marine and Tackle Center in Warrington Township, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022. Goodling began fishing about six years ago and is working toward his career in professional bass fishing. Dawn J. Sagert/The York Dispatch

Along the way, the younger Goodling picked up a mentor in Rick Anderson, the owner of Hawghead Marine and Tackle Center in Warrington Township, where Goodling works. Anderson, a former professional fisherman, takes teens between ages 12 and 18 under his wing. His rule is to keep the grades up — nothing less than a C.

Goodling raised his grades and started practicing. Anderson said because there isn’t a lot of fishing during the winter, he gave Goodling tasks to practice, such as hitting targets correctly in a weighted bucket, and learning how to throw a type of reel called a baitcaster. 

In baitcasting, Duane Goodling said, one uses a thumb to stop a line, which takes a lot of practice. The father can’t do it, but his son picked the ability up fast. Duane Goodling added his son is a natural at “patterning,” which means the younger Goodling can look at the temperature and other data and know where to fish and what lures to use. 

Anderson already knew Nicholas Goodling had the potential to be a diamond after he saw the teen claim his first Angler of the Year title locally. Goodling went on to claim that award two more times in a row. 

Goodling graduated early from Dover Area High School last January and spent the past year learning from his mentor. 

“I’m very proud of him,” Anderson said.

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Duane Goodling is also proud of his son, explaining he will back his children’s passion. The children just have to put the work in. If they do, then he will do what he can to help them.

Now, Nicholas Goodling is taking on his own teens to mentor, just like Anderson.

Goodling is also excited to kick off his career in fishing. He wants to become a “boater” in the competitions, which means he controls the boat and where the boater and co-angler will fish. It brings home bigger cash prizes but also costs more to do. Anderson is recommending Goodling takes five years before stepping up. Rather, he can spend time as the co-angler, learning from others he is competing with. 

As for the national competition, Duane Goodling said his son was honored to participate, even if he didn’t place as high as wanted. 

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Anderson explained they hit some bad luck. On the first day of practice before the competition, the motor on his boat died, making practicing more difficult. A cold front also came in, which caused even the local professional fishermen to struggle. 

“It was brutal,” Anderson said. “It was one of those tournaments where the weigh-in was way down.”

But that happens, Anderson added. 

Goodling did take home enough money to cover his entry fee into the competition, but his sight is set on bigger fish for next year. He and his father are looking for sponsors to cover his entry fees and travel for the series of competitions Anderson has picked out for him. 

— Reach Meredith Willse at mwillse@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @MeredithWillse.