What was already shaping up to be a big event Saturday on Alabama’s Lake Martin got a major bump earlier this week when it was announced that Costa has signed on as the new title sponsor for the Bassmaster High School Series.
The Daytona Beach, Fla., company, which has produced some of the most popular sunglasses in the world since its inception in 1983, will sponsor all three Bassmaster High School Open events this year (Southern, Central and Midwest), plus a national championship this summer at a site to be determined.
"We¹re thrilled to be the title sponsor of the Bassmaster High School Series," said Al Perkinson, vice president of marketing for Costa. "We believe that encouraging young people to get outside and fish is extremely important, not only to the future of our sport, but to their health and happiness. Raising the visibility of high school bass fishing will help to bring even more young people into the outdoors, and so we're proud to be a part."
Saturday’s event on Lake Martin will officially be known as the “Costa Bassmaster High School Southern Open.”
Registration will be from 5-7 p.m. Friday at the Charles E. Bailey Sportsplex in Alexander City with a barbecue and briefing to follow. Competition will begin at 6:15 a.m. Saturday from Wind Creek State Park in Alex City with the first flight scheduled to weigh in around 2:30 p.m.
With 220 boats registered – and each boat carrying two team members plus a captain or coach – it will be one of the largest fields ever for a B.A.S.S.-sanctioned event.
“It’s kind of intimidating,” said Logan Parks, a 16-year-old fisherman from the Auburn Anglers Fishing Team who will fish the event with his friend, Lucas Lindsay. “But we’ve had some experience with other big tournaments, including one with over 300 boats. It’ll be challenging, but it’ll be fun.”
Teams will be allowed to weigh in five fish with a 12-inch minimum length limit enforced for both largemouth and spotted bass.
As with most tournaments held on Lake Martin, the temptation will be there to go out and land five 12-inch spots as quickly as possible. It’s something that can often be easily done on a 39,180-acre Tallapoosa River fishery where spotted bass typically account for nearly 80 percent of most tournament catches.
But anglers with experience on lakes like Martin believe that could be a waste of time.
“With the kind of field they have for this tournament, there are going to be a lot of fish caught,” said Chase Kanute, a senior from the Hayden (Ala.) High School Fishing Team who’ll be fishing the event with classmate Taylor Ashley. “It’ll all just depend on who gets that 5-pound bite.”
Kanute and Ashley live 45 minutes from Alabama’s Smith Lake – another deep, clear fishery with a healthy population of spotted bass – and they hope to benefit from their knowledge of such fisheries.
Their mid-January trip to Lake Martin produced middling results. But then last week, they finished second in another high school event on the lake with just over 16 pounds.
“My favorite kind of fishing is definitely shallow-water grass fishing, but that won’t help us any on Lake Martin,” Ashley said. “You never know what you might have to do on Martin, but I feel like I’m a good dock fisherman and good with a jig in general. We’ll just have to figure out what’s working and go with it.”
Parks and Lindsay have the advantage of living just 35 minutes from Martin, and they’ve tapped into the knowledge of some of the older, more experienced anglers in that area. One mentor Parks mentioned was Jordan Lee, the 2014 Bassmaster Classic qualifier from the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series.
“Lucas and I were founders of our first fishing team when we were in junior high, and we’ve progressed a long way from our first year because of people like that,” Parks said. “In January, one of our captains, Dr. Neil Schaffner of Auburn, taught us a technique we hadn’t tried before. We were able to catch a couple of fish on that; it was good to learn.”
The tournament will feature nearly $10,000 in cash and prizes with payouts to be determined based on the numbers of teams that show.
There will be a mandatory 15-minute “halftime” period when teams are required to rest and refuel and allowed to confer with their coaches and captains. The only other times anglers will be allowed to talk specifically about fishing with the adults in their boats be during optional timeouts. Each team will be allowed four one-minute timeouts per half that must be documented.
Jeffrey Dennis, who will serve as team captain for Parks and Lindsay, said it’s not always easy allowing the youngsters to work things out for themselves.
“As a captain, you don’t want to just demand that they use one particular lure or one particular tactic,” Dennis said. “They don’t learn anything that way. But at the same time, it’s hard to just sit there for eight hours and watch them fish. You want to jump in there with them and help them get things done, but it’s their tournament.”
The top 10 percent of the field will qualify for the Bassmaster High School national championship event, which will be held at a site to be determined later this year.
Besides checks and championship qualification, some anglers also hope to use tournaments like Saturday’s as a springboard to future professional careers.
“When I was about 12 years old, my mom took me to the Bassmaster Classic, and I told her I wanted to fish with guys like Kevin VanDam one day,” Kanute said. “I plan to go to college and have a good backup plan, but my dream is to fish on the Bassmaster Elite Series with the best fishermen in the world. This is where it starts.”