Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Stillwater Christian senior casts for a future in fishing

by ELSA ERICKSEN Daily Inter Lake
| May 24, 2024 12:00 AM

Silas Jones is more at home on the water than off of it, spending every possible weekend scouring lakes across the Flathead Valley and Montana for bass.

Standing on the shore of Flathead Lake at the Somers boat launch, Jones displays an ease that is only earned through countless hours in a boat, learning the nuances of the lake and the fish under the surface.

Finding the fish, Jones explained, “depends on the time of year, the weather, the water temperature, the type of fish… there’s a lot of factors.” At just 17, his understanding of those factors is more reflective of a fisherman decades older. 

The Stillwater Christian School senior is already an accomplished angler, leaving his mark on youth fishing in Montana and California, where he grew up before moving to Northwest Montana in 2022 for his junior year. 

He has a number of accolades to his name, including winning the California Junior State Championship two years in a row, appearances at both the junior and high school national championships, and over 20 top five finishes.

Most notably, Jones has been named high school angler of the year, once in California and twice in Montana.

Jones has no plans to stop fishing any time soon, and has his sights set high as he graduates from high school.

“I’m going to college next year, to Kentucky Christian University on a fishing scholarship there, so I’ll be fishing all the college tournaments out east and traveling all over. Through that, if you win nationals, it pays for a full year’s worth of fishing on the pro circuit for free. So hopefully that’s the goal, and I have made it my goal: I will win that and then start on the pro circuit in college.”

At Kentucky Christian, Jones plans to study business, but he says that his primary focus will continue to be fishing.

When Jones’ family moved to Kalispell from California, he was concerned about the prospects for bass fishing in a state where fly fishing is king. 

“I’ve never thrown a fly rod. Moving to Montana, I feel like I have to at some point, but I just always bass fish. I’m used to that.”

Before moving north, Jones connected with Randy Siemens, the state youth director for the Montana Bass Federation. Siemens, whose previous team had graduated, enthusiastically agreed to take on Jones, serving as boat captain and coaching him through the nuances of fishing for bass in Montana. 

In Jones, Siemens found an athlete dedicated to his sport and determined to succeed at the highest levels.

“He works harder than anyone I’ve ever seen. He shows up at 4:30 in the morning prepared, no questions, positive mental attitude and basically wins everything. He’s a prodigy. He really is. I’ve seen a lot, and he truly is one of a kind.”

Competing in Montana was an adjustment for Jones. Accustomed to fishing against upwards of 70 high school teams in California, he now found himself in tournaments with as few as 12 other boats. In Montana, he explained, there just aren’t as many people fishing for bass.

Yet the smaller number of opponents did not diminish the competition, Jones emphasized. 

“I’m fishing against locals who know the water way more than I do.”

Jones put in the work to adjust to his new environment and has dominated Montana’s high school fishing tournaments since moving to the Flathead Valley two years ago He won two out of three tournaments in his junior year and swept all four during his senior year.

As a result of this success, Jones and his teammate, Aiden Curry, were named anglers of the year in 2023 and represented the state of Montana at the 2023 High School Fishing World Finals and National Championship.

For those who know him, this success hardly comes as a surprise, given that Jones has been fishing for as long as he can remember.

In particular, his experiences fishing with his grandfather, Pat Leiser, cultivated his love for the sport. 

“I fished pretty much every tournament I could with him on the weekends, so I’d be showing up to all these big adult tournaments in California, just me and him, and go cash the check or get a trophy with him, and it was pretty fun. He’s pretty much taught me everything I know for fishing.”

At Stillwater Christian School, Jones appreciates the environment created by the small student body and kind teachers, describing it as the type of school where you get to know everybody. 

Principal Matthew Vander Ark praised Jones as “a model student who works hard in the classroom and has a servant's heart.”

As Jones prepares to trade the lakes of Northwest Montana for eastern waters, Siemens is confident that Jones will continue to succeed, just as he has here in the Flathead Valley. 

“Silas has the potential to definitely be great. His work ethic, his dedication and his integrity just move me. He is a wonderful, wonderful young man. With his work ethic and his passion, he will never compromise. I know that he will go far.”

The commencement ceremony for the Class of 2024 for Stillwater Christian School is Friday, May 24. Stillwater’s ceremony begins at 11 a.m. in the school gym, with 21 students set to graduate. The school is located at 255 FFA Dr., Kalispell.