Florida anglers conquer Watts Bar in Bassmaster High School Classic

KINGSTON, Tenn. — Where Bryce Balentine and Dalton Loos are accustomed to fishing, rock is hardly ever a prominent piece of cover to target for a winning bag of bass.

So, when the team from the Seminole Junior Anglers arrived at Watts Bar for the Strike King Bassmaster High School Classic presented by Academy Sports + Outdoors, they felt like they were on a different planet.

It didn’t take them long to figure it out, however, as the central Florida duo caught four bass weighing 8 pounds, 2 ounces to win the event. They were awarded the trophy on the stage of the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Toyota inside Thompson-Boling Arena on the campus of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

“This means a lot to me,” an emotional Balentine said.

“This is what you go to bed and dream about. I’m just glad we were able to come across the stage and bring home (a trophy),” Loos added. “We picked what we liked fishing around the most and went to work. We tried not to worry about what other people were doing.”

BJ Collins and Banks Shaw from Tennessee’s Sale Creek High School finished second with 5-14 followed by a tie for third place with Clay County High School’s Parker Stalvey and Jacob Deel and Spain Park Anglers Benjamin Travis and Andrew Kunz with 4-15.

Calling the Harris Chain of Lakes home — and being new to the Tennessee River system — Loos and Balentine didn’t catch a single keeper bass during a tough practice. They did, however, catch two nonkeepers on a specific stretch of bank in the back of a creek that keyed them in to their tournament game plan.

The back of this creek featured riprap and other rock elements and also had dirty water moving through it. They caught their largemouth with a red Strike King Chick Magnet.

“We found some dirty water that had a little flow in it, and that current held those bass there,” Loos said. “We were in that one creek all day long.”

It wasn’t an easy day for any of the eight teams competing. Winds were blowing hard out of the southwest all day after heavy thunderstorms moved through the area overnight. No team reached their five-bass limit, and the Florida anglers considered themselves fortunate to get the bites they had.

“We grinded out all day,” Balentine said. “They were in about 5 feet of water. We went all the way to the back and found a certain stretch. We found it in practice. We decided that was (basically) all we had and we were going to come back in the tournament and see what happens. Well, we saw what happened.”

Loos has graduated since qualifying for this event, but Balentine will continue to work this season to reach the Classic stage again next year.

The city of Kingston hosted the event.