High School: Gardendale team wins on Alabama's Lay Lake

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Stephen Findley
Jordan McCaleb (left) and Jaxon Brown of the Gardendale Rockets bass club won the 2018 Mossy Oak Fishing Bassmaster High School Series Southern Open presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods on Lay Lake out of Shelby County, Ala., with 20 pounds, 8 ounces.

SHELBY, Ala. — Since they live just over an hour away, Gardendale High School anglers Jaxon Brown and Jordan McCaleb have always considered Lay Lake their favorite fishery.

Apparently, it likes them right back.

The Rockets anglers caught five bass Saturday that weighed 20 pounds, 8 ounces, to win the Mossy Oak Bassmaster High School Southern Open presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods. Instead of specifically targeting spotted bass, like many do on the central Alabama Coosa River fishery, they said they just went looking for five good bites.

“We fished an Alabama B.A.S.S. Nation high school event here last week, and we fished for spots,” Brown said. “But, we only had about 5 pounds with three fish. We said, ‘to heck with that,’ for this week. Today, we fished a totally different way on a totally different end of the lake.”

Since they fish frequent tournaments on the lake, the anglers were coy about the way they caught their fish.

“We used a 1 1/2-pounce piece of tungsten all day long,” said Brown, whose father, Bobby, served as the team’s boat captain for the day.

McCaleb offered slightly more detail.

“We were just flipping and throwing a swim jig,” he said.

Brown and McCaleb finished just ahead of John Walley and Justin Duke of Satsuma High School, who came in second with 19-13. 

“We have about 30 members on our team at Gardendale,” McCaleb said. “It's probably one of the biggest teams in the state. This is our fifth year to have a team.”

McCaleb, a senior, and Brown, a junior, earned first-place plaques, a $2,000 check for their school’s fishing team and $10,000 scholarships to join the college fishing team at the University of Montevallo.

They said they caught fish throughout the day, but their biggest bass of the day — a 5 1/2-pound largemouth — came before lunchtime. They only had about 17 pounds with 20 minutes left before weigh-in time, but a key cull put them over the top.

“We had one that weighed about a pound and a half that we had been trying to get rid of for about three or four hours,” McCaleb said. “We caught a 3 1/2-pounder to cull it right at the end.”

The event featured 274 teams, and the Top 27 earned a berth in the Bassmaster High School National Championship scheduled for Kentucky Lake in August. It took 13-12 to make the cut for the championship.

“We made it to Nationals last year by winning a B.A.S.S. Nation high school tournament on Smith Lake,” Brown said. “We caught them good at Kentucky Lake until bad weather moved in.

“We’re looking forward to another shot.”