Fishing With Faith – Youth Gone Wild

Records are made to be broken – especially when Noelle Avanzino’s around.

Noelle Avanzino’s bible verse for the week of Oct. 8, 2006, was Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” The New International Version of the Life Application Study Bible explains this verse in a way that not only makes it easy to understand, but it makes it clear why Avanzino’s verse was so prophetic.

We were all excited and anxious as our younger birthdays approached. We knew we would receive some gifts and other special treats, but some things would be a surprise. In other words, birthdays combine assurance and anticipation. The same can be said for faith.

Faith is the conviction based on past experience that God’s new and fresh surprises will surely be ours. Noelle received, or rather, caught, her fresh surprise on Tuesday, Oct. 10.

Noelle’s surprise came in the form of a 60-pound, 1-ounce wahoo that bit out of Venice in West Delta 33. Noelle and her dad, Venice offshore guide Scott Avanzino, were on the water in an effort for Noelle to catch a world-record fish.

“Noelle had already caught two wahoo in the 50-pound range,” said Avanzino. “However, we weren’t sure of the rules, and somebody had helped her on each of those fish by picking up the rod and putting it in the fighting chair for her. We weren’t even sure of what the 10-and-under record was at that time.”

After Emma Taylor, daughter of Louisiana Sportsman Publisher Tony Taylor, had caught a 55-pound wahoo on Avanzino’s boat with some help, he called outdoor writer and Reel Louisiana Adventures owner Susan Gros to learn more about the record process. Gros informed Avanzino that the 10-and-under wahoo record was 48 pounds.

They also learned that Noelle had other opportunities to set a record by catching either a 10-pound red snapper or a 30-pound cobia along with a 50-pound wahoo. Time was short, however, because Noelle had only about 4 weeks before she turned 11.

“Our window of opportunity was shrinking rapidly,” said Avanzino. “Our window was made shorter by the shifting weather patterns of fall. We knew she was capable of handling the big wahoo, though, because of the two big ones she had caught earlier.”

With time growing short, Noelle and her dad planned an offshore trip to try to set a new world record. An overnight trip was cancelled because of weather concerns and replaced by a single-day jaunt. Fifteen- to 20-m.p.h winds greet Noelle and her dad offshore, and they almost turned around.

In fact, later in the day Noelle had resigned herself to the fact that she wasn’t going to catch a record, and she retreated to the tower. That’s when her story began as her weekly Bible verse came to life.

“I was starting to feel a little sick because it was so hot, and I wanted the wind in the tower to cool me down,” Noelle said. “The rods were all in their holders, and I saw one of the poles start to bend over. The line started running, and everybody started getting excited.”

Another lady who was onboard was going to get it, but Avanzino suggested Noelle go down to get it. As soon as Noelle got the rod out of the holder, she got a little scared. The boat was rocking from the wind, and the fish was pulling hard.

“It felt like I was going to fall in the water,” she recalled.

“The funny thing about that initial bite was that we had already put up the light 30-pound outfits with 5- or 6-pound reels,” said Avanzino. “We were using the light rods for trolling just one bait around the rigs. It was getting so rough and Noelle was getting sick, so I put it up and put out the 50-pound stand-up poles. Naturally, the one the fish bit was the farthest out and it had the heaviest reel on it.”

Noelle stood up the entire time she fought the fish. While the battle lasted only about 10 minutes, she remembered thinking that it felt like a lot longer than that. Everybody on board could see that the fish was a big one, and Avanzino was sure she would have the record as long as they could land the fish.

On board were two of Avanzino’s close friends. One took a swipe at the fish to gaff it and struck out, much to Avanzino’s dismay. The second swipe connected, though, and the wahoo was put on the deck. Avanzino immediately predicted it to be somewhere between 60 and 70 pounds.

“One of the smartest things we did while preparing to catch this fish was to have Noelle practice getting the rod out of the holder and putting it in the belt by herself,” said Avanzino. “That way, she wouldn’t have to all of a sudden — boom — do it during the heat of the moment.”

After sending in the proper paperwork, Noelle was awarded the Girl’s Small Fry World Record for her 60-pound, 1-ounce wahoo. She received a certificate from the International Game Fish Association (IGFA) along with some other goodies.

Noelle’s fishing story didn’t begin on the morning of Oct. 10 of last year, though. It actually began about eight years earlier when her dad first began taking her out on his boat. She showed enough coordination and balance that Avanzino never felt bad about taking her offshore.

She didn’t fish offshore at such a young age, though. But, she had already landed a redfish when she was two, and she caught a blackfin tuna during a visit to her grandparents in Florida at an early age. She said she wanted to catch a record fish because it would be fun, but setting records isn’t why she fishes.

“I have always loved going fishing with my dad because I just love spending time with him on the boat,” said Noelle. “I like it when we catch the fish, and we get all happy and stuff. I feel like I’ve accomplished something when I get a fish in. I like going offshore the best because I like going out real far and feeling the wind in my face. It’s really fun.”

As far as setting any future records, Noelle said they would just have to hope they get lucky. The 16-and-under category is tough because the fish are all really big. For example, the wahoo record in this group is 90 pounds — that’s a major fish and a real trophy catch.

“It’s important to know that we aren’t eagerly pursuing records,” Avanzino explained. “Records are made to be broken. Noelle broke a record with her fish, and her record will get broken one day. This was an exercise in setting a goal and working toward meeting it.”

With so many wonderful opportunities for the young people of Louisiana to get involved in fishing, young Noelle understands that everybody doesn’t have a dad who happens to be an offshore guide. Therefore, she believes it’s important for a kid who is interested in learning how to fish to take advantage of every opportunity that comes his way to put a hook in the water. She also has some advice for those kids, girls especially, who think they might even like fishing.

“If you don’t like to fish, or you are kind of grossed out by it, I would say to just give it a try,” she said. “It’s one of those kinds of things that might not look like much fun at first glance, but once you try it you might just get hooked. It’s really exciting when you get a fish in the boat and you think, ‘I can’t believe I just did what I did.’ That feeling makes you want to keep going back again and again.”

Avanzino has seen a resurgence of sorts in families showing up at boat ramps on weekend mornings, which he considers to be really nice with all the hustle and bustle of today’s world. It’s that kind of family that can make a difference in a young child’s life and turn him or her into a lifelong angler.

“Just the other morning down at Venice Marina, I saw four families getting ready to go out for the day,” he said. “They had everybody — mom, dad, and the kids. They were all helping out with launching the boat — getting the coolers in and unhooking stuff. It was really cool to see that.”

Avanzino believes parents can encourage their kids to appreciate fishing in the same constructive ways that parents encourage their kids to do anything. He believes the key is to keep from pushing them into it. In other words, don’t make your kids go fishing. They have to want to go on their own. Don’t worry about them not ever wanting to go, though. If a young kid sees dad going fishing a lot, they’re going to be chomping at the bit to go too.

“Wait until they ask to go,” said Avanzino. “And start slow. Don’t make them man the poles on a marlin trip when they’re three. Now, if you have room and they want to go, make it a fun adventure for them. Let them invite a friend along.

“I know one dad who takes his kid along, but all he wants to do is play with trucks while he’s out there. It kind of bums him out, but he understands that at least he’s out there being exposed to it and that one day he’s going to ask if he can fish.”

Avanzino’s advice is rock-solid. Many parents of kids playing sports have experienced, either personally or from a distance, parents who pressure their kids too much. If you push a kid to do something, they’ll quickly burn out on it and maybe even wind up resenting the very thing you’re trying to get them to like. They also might even wind up resenting the parent who’s doing the pushing.

While it might not seem like youth fishing and fishing for a world record have much in common, trying to catch a youth record might be just the thing they need to get them hooked. Kids are prone to bragging, and what better thing to brag about than catching a world-record fish.

The IGFA has more than 7,100 categories for world records. Everything from fly rod to conventional rod fishing is included, and categories include freshwater and saltwater. The junior-angler programs are made up of the “smallfry” (10 and under) and the “junior” anglers (11 to 16). Kids are eligible to compete against those within their age group while also maintaining eligibility in the “adult” categories as well. The interesting thing about some of the youth records is that they are vacant.

“I caught a ladyfish a couple years ago, but we released it,” Noelle recalled. “I wanted to keep it, but Dad said to let it go. It turns out that the ladyfish record was vacant for my age group. All it would have taken to get that record would have been to turn in the paperwork.”

To learn more about the IGFA, its categories and standing records, parents can visit with their kids. A menu button at the top labeled IGFA KIDS leads to pages of information about how kids can get involved in the world-record process. There is also loads of information about IGFA youth programs like IGFA Dania Beach Junior Angler Tournament and the Make a Difference Special Angler Tournament.

The two most important things a young angler and his or her parents need to keep in mind when fishing or applying for a record is to follow the rules. Records are often lost because of rules violations — the most common of which is late applications. Anglers who catch a fish in U.S. waters have 60 days to submit a record.

Parents should also check a scale’s certification before it is used to weigh a potential record. Scales that have been certified by government agencies for commercial use are acceptable, and the IGFA will certify hand-held spring scales up to 100 pounds.

Going after a junior world record can be a fun and exciting thing for a parent and kid to do together. However, Avanzino cautions about it becoming the only reason you take your kid fishing. Pride is an ugly thing, and trying to set a record just to satisfy your pride is only going to lead to trouble. Approach it the right way, and you may find yourself handing your son or daughter his or her own world-record certificate one day.

About Chris Ginn 778 Articles
Chris Ginn has been covering hunting and fishing in Louisiana since 1998. He lives with his wife Jennifer and children Matthew and Rebecca along the Bogue Chitto River in rural Washington Parish. His blog can be found at