Alabama team tops field on Day 2

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Ronnie Moore

PARIS, Tenn. — When all else fails, junk fishing often prevails.

Fishing shallow and deep paid off with the lead for Ean Davis and Grayson Hanson, the Day 2 leaders at the 2016 Costa Bassmaster High School Championship.

The team, representing Pell City High School in Alabama, caught 5 bass weighing 21 pounds, 12 ounces for an overall total of 38-13. The catch stands as the heaviest single day weight caught during the tournament underway on Barkley and Kentucky lakes.

Junk fishing is a last resort when there is no prevailing pattern in a lake. The junk term comes from the attempt to catch a bass from any casting target or cover encountered along a given stretch of shoreline. You are basically using everything in the tacklebox and casting at anything.

"In August on the Tennessee River everybody talks about fishing the ledges," said Zeke Gossett, the team captain who coincidentally is a 2014 graduate of the high school located near Birmingham.

"That's how it's going for us and we're making the most of it," said Davis, 18, a senior. "At least in our junk pattern the areas have produced at least one quality bass on both days."

Today that was a largemouth weighing 7-5. Yesterday the team anchored their catch with a largemouth weighing 6-13.

"We're not getting a lot of bites but they are quality fish," added Hanson, 17 a junior. "There is at least one good one in there and we'll need it again tomorrow."

They will indeed need it. The junk spot didn't give up the 7-pounder until 1:30 p.m. Tomorrow will take swinging for the fences since the Top 12 teams will compete for college bass fishing's national championship title. Weekend anglers and a large-scale local tournament will replace the fishing pressure created by the high school teams eliminated after Day 2.

The Panthers bass fishing team is fishing two areas. Those include deepwater ledges and a key 700-yard stretch of shoreline.

"We are just rotating between the two areas but the shallow spot is the best," said Gossett.

Austin Hamner and Aaron Reed, the Day 1 leaders, dropped to second with a total weight of 35-7. Samuel and Matthew Vandergriff of Warren County High School in Tennessee dropped to third with 33-8. Ryan Wood and Turner Mason, fishing for the Front Range Bass Club in Colorado, pulled into fourth with 32-9. Colton Didion and John Hutson of the Hartley Hawgs in Ohio hold down fifth place with 32-6.

The leaders behind Pell City continue finding success using a traditionally popular method of fishing here during summer. That is finding tight schools of bass offshore on the lake's underwater ledges. Those drop off into the deep, cooler water of the Tennessee River channel.

That is where the bass find a comfort zone and source of food. The current and cooler water also attracts baitfish. Timing is everything. The bass follow the bait and there are no guarantees they stay in the same spot. Even so it's a gamble worth the risk.

"Today we didn't have enough current," admitted Hamner, of the flow created by the release of water from Kentucky Dam. "We need it to run all day to be good."

The Northside High School team from Tuscaloosa, Ala., duplicated their fishing strategy today by fishing shallow and then going to the deepwater ledges.

"We are fishing shallow to catch a quick limit and then moving deep for the bigger bite," said Reed.

The limit came again by 8:30 a.m. and the anglers replaced the smaller catch with bigger bass caught on the ledges.

The lack of current and calm winds played into the favor of the strategy chosen by Wood and Mason, students at Legacy High School in Broomfield, Co.

"Current doesn't matter at all to us because we are fishing in shallow water," said Wood, who was on the 2015 Bassmaster High School All-American Fishing Team.

Coincidentally, shallow water produced the winning catch for three consecutive days for the winning team last year. That high school championship was held on Kentucky Lake in early August.

A coach whose role is mentoring the anglers accompanies them in the boat. Teams must take a 15-minute half-time break after four hours of fishing. One-minute timeouts are optional.

Teams are eligible to win $70,250 in scholarship funds. B.A.S.S. is contributing $21,000 and sponsors are providing $9,250. The remaining $40,000 will be awarded by Bethel University in McKenzie, Tenn. The school has the distinction as the first to offer academic scholarships for members of a collegiate bass fishing team. Triton will also provide an additional $500 scholarship to each angler through sixth place.

Tomorrow the Top 12 teams take off at 5:30 a.m. from Paris Landing State Park and return for the weigh-in at 1:45 p.m. The high school national champions will be crowned on the Henry County Court House square in downtown Paris.