HUNTINGDON, Tenn. — Heading into the second day of the Bassmaster Junior Championship, Miller Dowling and Chandlar Hollingsworth knew they needed a couple of bites from big bass.
The boys from American Christian Academy in Tuscaloosa, Ala., were in seventh place after the first round of the tournament on Carroll County 1,000 Acre Recreational Lake and trailed the leader by nearly 7 pounds. To account for the difference, they needed a lot of skill and likely a little luck.
They got both during the final day of fishing on Wednesday and came from behind to win the national championship bass tournament for young anglers 7-13 years of age.
Dowling and Hollingsworth weighed the heavyweight of the tournament with five bass that totaled 16 pounds, 9 ounces. That gave them a two-day total of 10 bass that weighed 25-12, and that was enough to push past Rein Golubjatnikov of the Rochester (N.Y.) Junior Bassmasters for the victory.
Golubjatnikov, who led after the first day of competition with 15-13, finished second overall with a two-day total of 23-12. Jordan Sylvester and Jacob Tullier of the Southwest Louisiana Junior Bassmasters were in second place after Day 1, but slipped to third with 21-5 total.
Dowling and Hollingsworth were a tough act to follow on Wednesday. Each angler caught a bass that weighed more than 6 pounds, and the shared success paid big dividends. Both anglers won a $1,000 scholarship for the victory, not to mention championship trophies and national bragging rights for the year.
The 6-pounders both were caught on a green pumpkin shaky head worm in about 15 feet of clean water. The team fished only two spots the entire tournament.
“After Miller caught the second big fish, we said ‘We’re going to win this,’” Hollingsworth said.
But the day didn’t start so swimmingly. The boys thought they had the big bite they needed when Dowling hooked a bass they estimated to weigh in the 9-pound range within the first five minutes of angling time.
“We knew it was a big one right away,” Hollingsworth said. “We got him straight to the boat, but the hook came out. We were depressed — but later on, we had the first 6-pounder I caught on a shaky head, then we had some smaller 1-pounders. When we moved to our other spot later on, Miller caught another 6-pounder. I thought we were going to have only one big bite all day, but it got better and better.”
Dowling said the team was fishing old ditches that crease the bottom of the man-made 1,000 acre lake. They found their honey holes in practice, and they decided to stick with them in the tournament.
Dowling and Hollingsworth finished eighth in last year’s junior championship by catching nine bass that weighed 7 1/2 pounds total in 2016. That prompted them to select new spots this year, which turned out to be a decisive factor.
“This is like nothing ever before,” Hollingsworth said. “I’m shaking. We caught the first fish, and we knew needed one more. When we caught it, we were confident.”
Still, the eventual victors were among the first teams to weigh-in on Wednesday, and sitting in the hot seat for the majority of the day was a daunting task. Dowling and Hollingsworth literally sweated out the remainder of the 51-team field in the Tennessee summer heat to see if they’d finish on top. When the Louisiana duo of Sylvester and Tullier posted only 6-4 on Day 2, the Alabama tandem felt a bit of relief.
And when Golubjatnikov posted a second day total of 7-15, they finally could breathe easily.
“We got more nervous the closer we got to the end,” Dowling said. “But now, it feels great.”
Golubjatnikov caught his big bass by dragging a Carolina rig on the first day. His legs sunburned badly on Tuesday, and he was in pain on Wednesday, said his dad and boat captain Ken Golubjatnikov. Still, to fish solo in a national championship event and to fare so well was a feat in itself. He won a $1,000 scholarship, too, which didn’t have to be split with a teammate. School ends this week in upstate New York, and Golubjatnikov took his exams early knowing he would fish alone in the national championship.
It was the third consecutive year he qualified for the tournament. He finished seventh in 2016.
“To finish second in this tournament this year is a really great feeling,” he said.
Waupaca (Wis.) Junior Bass Busters teammates Reece Keeney and Bryce Moder finished fourth with a two-day total of 18-12. Bradlee Parish and Tyler Guin of the Monroe County (Miss.) Youth Bassmasters finished fifth with 16-9 overall.
Teams from 28 states and Canada participated in the junior championship. Each earned the right to compete in the championship through B.A.S.S. Nation qualifiers in their respective states.
The local host for the event was the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce.