PARIS, Tenn. — Redemption. That sums up the week on Kentucky Lake for Turner Mason and Ryan Wood, winners of the Costa Bassmaster High School Championship.
Last year the teenage anglers from Colorado fished this very event and failed to catch a single keeper bass all week. Today, they capped an amazing week of fishing by winning the tournament with 49 pounds, 4 ounces.
Wood and Mason represented the Front Range Bass Club while enrolled at Legacy High School. Wood, a former B.A.S.S. youth state and national champion, was a member of the 2015 Bassmaster High School All-American Fishing Team.
Ethan Stone and Nolan Minor, fishing for Orange County High School in Virginia, took second with 48-6. Dailus Richardson and Trevor McKinney of Benton County High School in Illinois finished third with 46-5. Fourth were Ean Davis and Grayson Hanson of Pell City High School in Alabama with 45-15. Austin Hamner and Aaron Reed of Northside High School in Alabama took fifth with 45-12.
The winning game plan for Mason and Wood was conceived on the cross-country drive from their homes in Broomfield, Col.
"We fished deep last year and didn't have the confidence in doing it again," said Wood, 18, who will attend Dallas Baptist University and join its bass fishing team.
"We all are jerkbait junkies and use the lure a lot for all species back in Colorado," added Chad LaChance, team coach and angling mentor of Wood since he was 9 years old.
"On the drive over we decided to somehow make it work since we have so much confidence in the jerkbait," said Mason, 18, who will fish for the Colorado State University bass fishing team beginning this fall.
The jerkbait plan got validated upon arrival at Kentucky Lake. During practice the team caught fish of all species on the sub-topwater lure, just like back home, and plenty of quality largemouth and smallmouth.
"It worked from one end of the lake to the other, at least where we fished," added Wood. "We could do no wrong and it was obvious all the various species were moving into shallow water to feed."
In summer on Kentucky Lake bass fishermen rarely use the floating jerkbait. That is because the largemouth and smallmouth inhabit deeper, cooler water along the main river channel. They stay all summer long and feed on large schools of shad. Deep diving crankbaits are the top producers, not a lure normally used here only in spring and fall.
Mason and Wood discovered the bass moved into coves adjacent to the deep water to feed on baitfish. Even in shallow water the bass had a quick, short trip back to deeper water. Fish of all species came to feed, spending time to do little else, before darting back to deep water.
On average they caught fish so shallow the boat created a mud line behind them. The presentation was equally as unusual. Bass metabolism slows in summer, requiring slower lure presentations. Mason and Wood snapped the rod tip and retrieved the lure as quickly as possible.
They used 5-inch floating jerkbaits in chrome for sunny skies and white under cloudy conditions. The lure was tied to 15-pound Stren braid with a 20-pound monofilament leader to prevent the lure from getting tangled in the stiff line. A 6' 8" St. Croix Legend Elite Spinning Rod and Pflueger Patriarch spinning reel completed the tackle.
"We knew it unusual to catch bass in 90 degree water this time of year, on this lake, and in just a few inches of water," said Mason. "But we had to give it a try."
Redemption came early and quick. The team landed a limit weighing 14-10 by 7:30 a.m. on Day 1. They moved from 19th place into fourth on Day 2 with a limit weighing 17-15. The final effort produced a catch weighing 16-11 to seal the win.
Northside led the tournament on Day 1 and then dropped to second. They never recovered from missed opportunities. Fishing pressure from a weekend tournament hurt, too, on Day 3.
"We just didn't execute well and had a lot of boats on our areas," said Hamner.
The team focused on the typical summertime pattern of fishing the offshore ledges with deep running crankbaits.
Cap Massey, 14, of Animas, N.M., caught the big bass weighing 8-5. He caught the largemouth on a Reaction Innovations Skinny Dipper soft plastic lure. The strike occurred as the lure was slowly dragged along the bottom near a dropoff in 7 feet of water.
The tournament began with 340 anglers representing 170 high schools from across the nation and Ontario. The field was cut to the Top 12 on Day 3 with the weigh-in held on the downtown square in Paris, Tenn.
Teams were awarded $70,250 in scholarship funds. B.A.S.S. contributed $21,000 and sponsors provided $9,250. Bethel University provided the remaining $40,000. Triton Boats gave an additional $500 scholarship to each angler through sixth place.