High School: Kickback takes Open

OSAGE BEACH, Mo. — With less than two hours of competition remaining, Trevor Whisenant and Brett Lasley had only one keeper bass in the livewell.

It wasn’t exactly how they expected to fare in the Costa Bassmaster High School Midwest Open presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods held Sunday on Lake of the Ozarks.

Needless to say, the Kickback High School fishing team anglers were dejected. Their boat captain, Trevor’s dad Chris Whisenant, said the boys had lost focus after suffering through a less than productive morning on the 54,000-acre impoundment in central Missouri. The weather went from cold and rainy at daybreak, to downright muggy later in the afternoon. It looked as if the freshmen would finish way down the leaderboard in the open event that drew 66 teenage tandems from throughout the U.S.

But something clicked at about 1 p.m. It was part change of weather and part change of scenery. Throw in a healthy dose of an Alabama Rig, and the kids from Kansas made a comeback for the ages.

Trevor Whisenant and Brett Lasley caught four additional keepers in the closing minutes of the tournament, and the bag was buoyed by Lasley’s 5-pound, 6-ounce kicker. The late surge gave the boys a one-day total of 16 pounds, 8 ounces, and it was enough to earn them the Bassmaster High School Midwest Open title and a $1,000 prize for their school’s bass fishing team.

It was a grand turnaround for the best friends. They have fished together for recreation since grade school, but the Midwest Open was Lasley’s first competitive tournament. He made it a memorable one, with the 5-6 bass that came in the closing minutes of Sunday’s action. It also was an early birthday present for the 14-year old Lasley, who turns 15 later this week. His fishing partner just made 15 in early March.

“When I caught that big one, we felt like we had a chance,” he said.

Up until that big bass capped the team’s final flurry, those chances were iffy. Whisenant and Lasley were fishing not far from the Lake of the Ozarks State Park Public Boat Ramp No. 1 because they were worried about how foul weather might affect their runs to the far flung corners of the fishery. They finally latched onto the bass they sought with the Alabama Rig in approximately 32 feet of water.

“Some of them were in pockets, and some of them were on bluffs,” Chris Whisenant said. “The big ones were on the bluffs. The weather clearing up helped, and moving to the deeper water helped. But they [fished the Alabama rig] right off the bat.”

Many of the teams fished with Alabama Rigs on Sunday, and some caught sizable fish like the ones that were the norm during the Carhartt College Series Midwest Regional presented by Bass Pro Shops last week. But that tournament was held in colder weather, and continuing squalls from late Saturday night through Sunday mid-morning sent temperatures soaring.

The changing weather also disrupted the bite for the high schoolers. Many of them struggled, with only seven of the 50 teams weighing in five-bass limits.

All bets were off for the Kickback High Bass Club, though. Besides Whisenant and Lasley, teammates Zach Vielhauer and Remington Wagner placed second with a limit that weighed 14-7. Tyler Lubbat and Nolan Siara of the Buffalo Grove (Ill.) Bass Fishing Team placed third with a limit that totaled 14-1.

Brian Linder and Nathan Thompson of Eagan (Minn.) High School had the only other limit, and they finished fourth with a total of 13-13. Linder and Thompson briefly held the “Hot Seat” in the Midwest High School Open, after winning a tie-breaker with Riley Fletcher and Gavin White of the Cassville (Mo.) Wildcats. The Missouri tandem wound up finishing fifth overall because they only boated four fish, compared to the five Linder and Thompson weighed.

Each of those five teams will advance to the Costa Bassmaster High School National Championship, which will be held June 22-24 at a location to be disclosed later. Nehemiah Glenn and Joseph Gorman of Lakeville (Minn.) High finished sixth (13-2); and Tyler Christy and Scott Springer of Illinois placed seventh (12-9) to also advance to the national tournament.

Taylor Hamburger of the Northeastern Oklahoma High School Bass Club caught only one fish, but it was the big bass of the tournament at 6-2.

That fish edged Lasley’s 5-6 lunker to win big bass, but he and Whisenant had the biggest prize of all.

“It’s a great feeling to win the tournament,” Whisenant said. “Now we’ll go to the national tournament and do what we can there.”

Though they are only high school freshman, Whisenant and Lasley each were presented a $10,000 four-year scholarship to McKendree University in Illinois, should they choose to compete for that school’s bass fishing team when they graduate high school.