story and photos by Powell Cobb
High School bass fishing has slowly but surely come to the forefront for young anglers looking to put their skills on the water to the test.
All over the country, schools are creating club teams to travel and compete. In Bainbridge, Georgia’s bass fishing capital, the Basscats are in full force. The weekend of June 11-12, they made a splash at the 2016 High School State Classic on Lake Seminole.
Four Bainbridge Basscats will be fishing Kentucky Lake in Tennessee for the National Tournament come August.
Cuyler Duke and Bryson Arthur, with boat captain Troy Arthur, claimed third place Sunday afternoon, catching five fish on Saturday for 17.66 pounds and one fish Sunday for 3.85 pounds. They will accompany the other three teams in the Top Four to Lake Kentucky for the chance to compete in the National Tournament.
Duke and Arthur were sitting at first place after Day 1, more than three pounds ahead of the second place team. But despite Duke and Arthur’s burnt-red skin from the South Georgia sun, and a few missed opportunities on Sunday, they were all smiles.
“It feels awesome,” Duke said.
When asked what they were looking forward most for Nationals, Arthur had only one thing to say.
“Catching big fish,” he said.
Jackson Conley and Stokes Moore, with boat captain Brandon Conley, were not far behind, finishing in sixth place with nine fish and a two-day total of 18.68 pounds. Both eighth graders said Carolina rigs, flipping and frogs were what got them the sixth place finish.
“The best part of the day was when my dad (Brandon Conley) said there was no way I was going to catch a fish on a frog in the middle of the day,” Conley said. “I caught a five-pounder right as he finished saying that.”
Earning a trip to the Junior Nationals Tournament was the team of Lanie Birdsong and Hunter Davis, who were awarded the Junior State Championship title for their six fish at 12.5 pounds. Their boat captain was Lance Birdsong.
Other teams heading to Nationals are Lindsey Stevens and Clayton Scott of Ola High School (first place, 31.42 pounds), Preston Williamson and Nathan Hardin of Bremen High School (second place, 30.39 pounds) and Parker Guy and Jordan Gilbert of Irwin Bass Anglers (fourth place, 19.8 pounds).
The tournament saw more than 50 teams from high schools all over the state. Everywhere from North Georgia to the southern counties were represented.
And it will keep growing, anglers say.
“It exploded around Atlanta,” Bainbridge Basscats sponsor Roy Matthews said. “I think it can grow exponentially.”
Matthews said the Bainbridge community was fortunate to have such a supportive community.
“This is the fourth year,” Matthews said. “A friend gave me information on high school fishing team. I went to (principal) Tommie Howell, and he gave me approval. Tommie has been nothing but blessings.”
Matthews said that every year, there are three to four new anglers on the team that have never fished before. Opening up the sport like that is something Matthews enjoys about the club sport.
“They may not be the next Kevin Dan Dam, but they are the next people to take care of Flint River and Lake Seminole,” Matthews said.
The Costa Bassmaster High School National Championship and Junior Championship will be held August 2-6 at Kentucky Lake in Paris, Tennessee.