Florida junior rising through the ranks

STUART, Fla. — If his early accomplishments at the Junior Bassmasters level are any indication, then Ryan Edwards is headed for stardom in the pro ranks one day.

"He is a darn good fisherman," said Charlie Hays, the adult advisor of Edwards' junior club, The Big O Teen Anglers. "I keep telling him if I live long enough, I am going to watch him walk across the Bassmaster Classic stage one day. I have never seen anything like him in all the years I have been with BASS and I was the youth director for the state for seven years. He is really tremendous."

Hays said she believes Edwards' passion and determination "to do as well as he can each time he goes out and fishes" separates him from the other youngsters in the junior ranks. Those qualities are probably the driving forces behind Edwards' three Florida state championship victories in 2008, 2009 and 2010 and this year's victory at the Federation Nation Southern Divisional. The 14-year-old phenom is fishing in his final year of the 11-14 age division and he has already qualified for two Bassmaster Junior World Championships (JWC).

Edwards was introduced to his favorite sport by his grandfather, Bill O'Keefe, who took him fishing in a backyard pond when he was 2 years old. Since then, O'Keefe has taken Ryan and his twin brother Matthew on several billfishing excursions to Guatemala and Costa Rica. "Both of them have caught 300 billfish," said O'Keefe.

On one trip to Guatemala, the brothers caught blue marlin, striped marlin, black marlin and several sailfish, but Ryan was less enthused about the catches than Matthew. "I asked him if this was better than bass fishing, and he said he would rather be on Lake Okeechobee," said O'Keefe.

The Florida teen already owns a Stratos bass boat and is sponsored by Daiwa. His experience in the Florida Junior Bassmasters program is also helping him hone his bass fishing skills. "I definitely learn a lot of different things every time I go out [in a club tournament] such as making my own decisions and figuring out and adapting to different lakes and waters," he said.

His club also gives him a chance to get involved in conservation and community service projects. "It is important to get involved in your community and it helps with getting into college," said Edwards, who also serves as his club's secretary-treasurer. Some of his volunteer work includes helping hospice patients, autistic children and a Feed the Hungry program at his church.

His grandfather said he also believes Ryan will become a successful pro in the future. "You are going to see a lot of Ryan Edwards," said O'Keefe. "He is a man with a plan."

O'Keefe is Ryan's practice partner when he prepares for a club tournament, but he admits his grandson has more passion for bass fishing than he does. "I would rather be in Costa Rica catching a blue marlin," O'Keefe said. If Ryan keeps patterning bass and winning tournaments, O'Keefe will have to make those billfishing trips without one of the twins.

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