GUNTERSVILLE, Ala.— With 20 pounds of largemouth in the livewell by 9 a.m., the team members from Clinton High School didn't believe their day on Lake Guntersville could get even better.
It did, but only after the weigh-in concluded at the Costa Bassmaster High School Southern Open.
Ryan Winchester and Jake Lee, seniors at the school in Clinton, Tenn., won the tournament with 24 pounds, 8 ounces after sitting in the hot seats for the three-hour weigh-in. That's how long it took to weigh the catches of 322 high school bass club teams, a Bassmaster High School program record.
Sean Hall and Kyler McKie of North Augusta High School in South Carolina finished second with 23-12. Tyler Lubbat and Matt Runge of the Buffalo Grove Bass Fishing Club in Illinois took third with 22-2.
The last casts of the practice day sent good vibes to Lee and Winchester after they caught consecutive 2-pound largemouth from a long point on Lake Guntersville. They returned the next morning to find the shad in the process of spawning. The largemouth had plans too, and those involved feeding on the baitfish.
"Two-pounders turned into 4-pounders," said Winchester, a senior who signed a bass fishing scholarship with Bethel University in McKenzie, Tenn. "We never left the spot after they started biting."
And bite they did. Winchester and Lee caught a five-bass limit by 7:45 a.m., a little over an hour after fishing began. They sweated out the mandatory 15-minute halftime at 10 a.m., wondering how other contestants fared.
"What made the spot so good was the shad spawn," added coach Scott Winchester. "I had to make them stop fishing after we found them in practice."
The baitfish sweetened an already-prime spot for springtime largemouth on Lake Guntersville. The shoreline formed a long point sloping into 4 feet of water. Between the bank and river channel was a subtle, but key deep spot at 6 feet. Eelgrass grew over the top of the deeper water and the bass used the cover and depth to ambush the shad.
All it took to connect with the bass was casting into the deep hole with a spinnerbait, giving it a tug when encountering the grass, and hanging on for the strike.
"When the lure went through the grass all you needed to do was jerk it free," said Lee, also a senior who signed a bass fishing scholarship at Bryan College in Dayton, Tenn. "They hit it hard and tried to swallow the lure."
Alternating between two lures caught all the fish. Those were 1/2-ounce shad color Terminator and white/chartreuse Showboats Custom Lures spinnerbaits.
Lee and Winchester said after catching the five-bass limit, they culled through at least 20 pounds of largemouth.
"They just kept hitting in that one spot and it was amazing," said Lee, also from the 2015 Bassmaster High School All-American Fishing Team. "We never experienced anything like it and probably never will again."
The anglers from Clinton High School advance to the Costa Bassmaster High School Championship. The date and location will be announced soon.
The big bass weighing 7 pounds, 2 ounces got caught on a ChatterBait by Jake Mims of Alexander High School in Douglasville, Ga. The strike occurred as he retrieved the lure off a river ledge sloping from 8 into 19 feet of water. Mims won an Abu Garcia Revo SX reel for the catch.
Eight states were represented with 112 high school bass fishing clubs participating. The open tournament is one of three that advances teams to the championship event.