HUNTINGDON, Tenn. — Victories are not always dramatic and glamorous, but Mark Cerja Jr. and Gus Richardson of the Lone Star Junior Bassmasters were proud of their gritty, gutsy effort.
Grinding through a stingy final round, they tallied a two-day total of 18 pounds, 5 ounces and won the Bassmaster Junior National Championship at the Carroll County 1000 Acre Recreational Lake.
A Day 1 limit of 10-7 put Cerja and Richardson in second place. Catching another limit of 7-14 in the final round, they claimed the top award — a $2,000 scholarship they’ll split.
“I’ve been fishing since I was 2, and I was taught to fish hard and grind and never give up,” Cerja said. “Today was a tough, tough bite; we didn’t get our limit until about noon, whereas yesterday, we were culling at 10 a.m.
“It’s just an exciting feeling to go home national champions. I’ll sleep well tonight.”
After capitalizing on the barometric fluctuation of Friday’s passing storm system, which triggered aggressive feeding, Cerja and Richardson found the bass less active on the final day.
“I think it was pretty hard on the fish because they had just been fished,” Richardson said. “This is a pretty small lake and 65 teams were hitting the same spots (multiple times).”
As Cerja explained, their winning strategy was pure persistence, with a good dose of mobility.
“We started fishing War Eagle Creek but only had two in the box, so we went over to Jaguar Creek and caught one that was about 12 1/2 (inches),” Cerja said. “We said ‘We need a couple of big ones if we really want to win this.’
“So, we went to Rocket Creek — that’s where I caught a 4 and (Richardson) caught a 2 1/2.”
Cerja said he and his partner caught their fish in 8 to 10 feet of water. Docks with grass and brushpiles were best, but they also fished the backs of shallow creek channels.
On Day 1, Richardson caught a 4-7 on a white fluke. The winners caught their other fish on 4-inch plum finesse worms, 7-inch Berkley Power Worms in blue fleck and Zoom U-Tale Worms in tequila green flake. The latter produced their largest Day 2 catch — the 4-pounder.
“We thought it was better just twitching it pretty slowly and making sure we paid attention to the action — just making it look like something a bass would want to eat,” Richardson said.
Owen Ray and Camdyn Cranfill of the Rhea County Eagle Anglers finished second with 17-3. After placing third on Day 1 with a limit of 10-3, they added a three-fish bag of 7 pounds.
Repeating their Day 1 game plan, Ray and Cranfill again targeted deeper docks. Unfortunately, the bass were less cooperative the second time around.
“It was a lot slower bite today; our offshore stuff where we could get a limit (on Friday) did not work today,” Cranfill said. “We threw a glide bait around docks and ended up with two decent ones. We caught one small one on a drop shot.”
Ray said the day’s cloudy conditions limited their opportunities. As he explained, they needed more sunshine to position bass on the docks.
Ander Cowan and Alex Fitzpatrick of the PA Bassin Juniors finished third with 17-2. Day 1 saw them place seventh with four bass that weighed 7 pounds, but they gained four spots by adding 10-2 during the final round.
Cowan and Fitzpatrick also missed their final-round limit by one fish, but anchoring their bag with Cowan’s 7-1 made their day. The fish bit a 1/4-ounce shaky head with a trick worm in the bruised banana color.
The bite, Cowan said, was pretty subtle — he simply lifted his rod and felt pressure. The most memorable part of the story was the utter fiasco that occurred during the netting process.
“The net got tangled with one of our poles and we actually netted that fish with the pole still in the net,” Cowan said. “That was a very good comeback; I was definitely not expecting that.”
Fitzpatrick said the key to his team’s success was fishing deep.
“A lot of the lake’s docks had been overfished,” he said. “We were sitting in about 18 feet of water and fishing in 20.”
Landon Gabby and Carson Bruner of Marion, Ill., won the Big Bass award with their 8-3.
The Bassmaster Junior Series National Championship was hosted by the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce.