HUNTINGDON, Tenn. -- Beau Browning and McCoy Vereen remember what it felt like a year ago when they didn't catch a fish in the Costa Bassmaster Junior Championship.
"It was tough," Vereen said. "We had a long ride home. But we left knowing that we wanted a chance to redeem ourselves."
Browning and Vereen, fishing again as Team Arkansas in the 2016 Costa Bassmaster Junior Championship, stormed to nearly a 7-pound lead after the first day of competition on Tuesday, by virtue of a bag that totaled 14 pounds, 9 ounces. They followed with another impressive performance on Wednesday – a 6-7 sack of five fish that was decreased by 2-3 because of penalties.
Still, it was enough for a 21-0 two-day total and victory in the crown jewel of junior bass fishing. The boys, both 14 years old, each won a championship trophy, and will split a $2,000 scholarship for their performance on Carroll County 1,000 Acre Recreation Lake here in western Tennessee.
"We've been thinking throughout the year about what we were going to do when we got back," Browning said. "It feels great to come this far and win."
The final day of fishing was not without a bit of drama, however. For starters, the boys didn't have an early run on bass like they did on Tuesday when they caught a limit within 30 minutes of launching. The brutal Tennessee heat bore down early on Wednesday, and made the bite difficult on just about all of the 29 competing teams.
And to top off the early slack bite, Team Arkansas self reported a rules violation by having too many fish on board at one time. Bassmaster Elite Series pro Stephen Browning (Beau's father and Team Arkansas coach for the tournament,) said there were five bass in the live well, when a sixth keeper was caught. While Browning was measuring the fish, both boys began fishing again, which is not allowed.
The elder Browning informed Team Arkansas of the violation, then called tournament officials, who docked them two pounds for the oversight. Another of their five fish expired before weigh-in, which knocked them down another three ounces.
"It's like 'dadgummit,'" Stephen Browning said. "Two pounds is a lot of weight. I mean, it's a lot of weight; especially in a close tournament like this. We said, 'We made the mistake boys. Let's own up to it and keep grinding away."
And so they did. A 5-6 lunker was the big bass of the day, and the 5-10 bass that Team Arkansas weighed on Tuesday was the big bass of the tournament. Knowing the lake can produce some big bags (last year's winners boated 28 pounds on the final day of fishing,) even more pressure was on Browning and Vereen to perform.
The boys caught the majority of their fish on Magnum Shakey Head jigs (Red Bug) in 10-15 feet of water. They said fishing on Carroll County 1,000 Acre Recreation Lake was similar to what they encounter back home in Hot Springs in August as members of the Anvil Jaw Junior Bassmasters.
"Summer fishing is slow," Beau Browning said. "You have to fish slow, and you have to just grind it out pretty much. That's what we fish around the house, but coming here, the practice was still well-needed."
The New Hampshire duo of Jack Armstrong and Logan Daniels took the lead on Wednesday before Team Arkansas weighed their bag. New Hampshire finished with 15-13 overall, and placed second in the championship. Cameron Meadows and Austin Hubbard of Oklahoma had the big bag on Wednesday (10-7) and finished third overall with 12-10. Both teams collected trophies, while Team New Hampshire will split a $1,000 scholarship, as well.
Samuel Ambrose and Trevor Albanese of Team West Virginia also caught 12-10, but fell to fourth place overall on the heaviest-bag tiebreaker. Team Louisiana's Hanson Chaney and Jackson Landry finished fifth with a two-day total of 9-7.
Anglers competing in the Costa Bassmaster Junior Championship could range in age from 7-14 years old. Each team was accompanied by a coach who could offer advice on the water, but not catch the fish.
The junior anglers are considered the future of the sport. Championship teams from 28 states, and another from Canada, took part in the title tournament.