Bodsford’s semi-sweet 16

RICHMOND, Va. – He can’t legally drink alcohol, vote or serve in the military, so spectators could be forgiven if they thought Northern Open pro Nicholas Bodsford was the son of a competitor, wearing a replica of dad’s jersey to cheer him on.

But even though he’s probably no more than 120 pounds soaking wet, Bodsford shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Despite his diminutive size and youthful appearance, Bodsford has a solid six years of experience on the James and its tributaries dating back to….well, before he was in middle school.

“I fished my first tournament here on my 10th birthday,” the teenager said. “But this is definitely the biggest tournament I’ve ever fished.”

He would have fished last year’s Northern Open on the James but it came two weeks before his 16th birthday, making him ineligible under B.A.S.S. rules, which set 16 as the cut-off age to fish either the pro or co-angler side of these tournaments.

“He wouldn’t have been ready last year, anyway,” said his father, Ricky, who brought along a cadre of family members to cheer on their young hometown hero.

Among them were Nicholas’ 8-year-old sister Catherine, who made her brother two charms bearing Mike Iaconelli’s familiar “Never Give Up” phrase. One is duct-taped into the young angler’s boat; the other is on a necklace that he wore today.

Unfortunately, the lucky charms and supportive crowd did not produce the desired result. Bodsford weighed in three fish for 4 pounds, 7 ounces and sits in 97th place.

“I had three in the boat in the first 20 minutes and then I jumped two good ones off,” he said. “That really hurt me. I knew once the tide got up the fish would get harder to catch. My one high water spot didn’t pan out, but I’ll fish there again tomorrow. I think I can get them to bite.”

He steadfastly believes that neither nerves nor intimidation played a role in his unexpectedly subpar performance. However he did admit to one bout of nervousness at last night’s registration meeting. It had nothing to do with the depth of the field or the difficulty of the fishery, but rather in merely remembering his boat number and check-in time. Those jitters were easily quelled by writing the information on the back of his hand with a Sharpie.

While he’s dug himself a big hole early in the event, Bodsford knows that the James holds quality fish and that the right rotation of spots could put him right back in the hunt for a check. He estimated that he fishes 30 tournaments a year on the river, and notched his personal best limit, 19.72 pounds, a little over a month ago.

Like a veteran pro, Bodsford was quick to thank sponsors like Jackall Lures and Power Team Lures for their support, but of course his top backers are mom and dad. He’s cut more than a few lawns to pay for gas money, but the expenses add up more quickly than the grass grows up again. The rising 11th-grader also took pains to emphasize that he didn’t miss any school to fish this tournament.

“School ended two days ago,” he said. “But even before then I get out at 1:50 and can be at the boat ramp in 20 minutes.”

His formal education will continue in the fall, but his fishing apprenticeship will enter Day Two on Friday.

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