Garrett Howington and Issac Darden failed to catch a keeper-sized fish in Saturday’s Alabama Student Angler Bass Fishing Association tournament, but are being hailed as the heroes of the event.
Howington and Darden, both 10th-graders at Sardis High School, dropped their fishing rods to rescue another fishing team from Arab High School whose boat began sinking in Cypress Creek on Pickwick Lake.
“We heard them holler, ‘hey, our boat is sinking,’” Howington said. “The back of the boat was already filling up with water. “
“We did not know them, but we knew they needed help and they needed it fast,” Darden said.
“We pulled over to them and helped the two anglers over into our boat. They were both standing at the front, trying to stay out of the water. Everyone had their life jacket on. Their captain wanted to stay with the boat and try to save it, but I finally told him, dude, it’s time to go. Get in our boat now. A minute or two after he got into our boat, the only part of their boat that was not underwater was the front tip.”
Neither of the Arab anglers, Louis Garrison and Reed Willis nor their boat captain, Steve Skeen, were injured. Student anglers in ASABFA tournaments fish from a boat piloted by an adult captain.
Florence Fire and Rescue and Florence Police Department responded to the call for help with their emergency boats. Firefighters towed the crippled boat to McFarland Park.
The tournament was staged out of Riverfront Park in Sheffield. Weigh-in was at the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in Tuscumbia. More than 200 boats from 41 schools throughout Alabama competed.
“These kids are true heroes,” tournament director Shane Mansell said after calling Howington and Darden to the weigh-in stage to receive accolades for the rescue.
Kevin Walls, coach of the Arab High School Fishing Knights, said a boat malfunction cause the vessel to sink. “We’re unsure exactly why it sank, it might have been something like a water line to the livewell coming loose. We do know that it was not caused by rough water or by them striking anything in their water with the boat.”
Walls said the anglers and their captain returned to Arab after their boat was towed to shore. “Everyone is fine.”
Barry Corbman, president of the Alabama Student Angler Bass Fishing Association, said Howington and Darden’s heroics exemplify the organization.
“All of the teams are highly competitive, but they never hesitate to help each other out," he said. "You will not find better kids in any sporting arena anywhere than you will find in ASABFA. They fish hard and they all want to win, but they will stop fishing and forget about trying to win in a heartbeat if someone needs help.”
Mansell told Howington and Darden they made the biggest catch of the tournament Saturday. “Three people are alive and safe at their homes because of what you did.”
Mark Howington, Garrett Howington’s father and captain of their boat, said he was proud of the young anglers. “They didn’t panic. They just jumped into action and got the other kids and their captain off of their boat before it sank.”
-- Dennis Sherer is the communications representative for the Colbert County tourism office.