PARIS, Tenn. — Despite fishing a man short the first competition day, the South Florence High School team of Tommy Floyd Jr. and James Gibbons won the abbreviated Costa Bassmaster High School National Championship presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods at Kentucky Lake.
The South Carolina anglers weighed in a two-day total of 43 pounds, 3 ounces to win the national championship and collect $5,250 in scholarship money from DICK’S Sporting Goods.
Fishing in the championship for their second straight year at Kentucky Lake, Floyd and Gibbons had an idea of what they wanted to do in practice from last year’s experience on the lake. They did well last year fishing shallow but the high school anglers noticed the shallow bite wasn’t as strong this time. Floyd said he didn’t catch a bass over 3 pounds during practice. “We figured out there were some fish shallow and some deep but the bigger fish were deeper,” he said.
Before the first competition morning, adversity struck the team when Floyd contracted a gastrointestinal infection and taken to the emergency room at the local hospital. The 17-year-old Gibbons had to fish by himself that morning. “He held his place,” Floyd said of his partner.
Gibbons sure did as he caught five-bass limit weighing 20-1 to move the team into a tie for 13th place. The 17-year-old angler keyed on ledges with a green pumpkin 3/4-ounce Go Get Em jig and a green pumpkin Strike King Rage Craw and caught a limit by 8 a.m.
He had no trouble getting bites but he had a few problems getting fish in the boat. “I never could figure out how to net fish at the same time as I was reeling them in,” he said. “I just had to kind of swing them in the boat. I lost a few fish that morning from swinging them in when the jig would come out of their mouths.”
The strong wind and rough water also made it difficult for him to hold on to his spot after catching a fish. “The wind was so bad when I caught a few and had to go back and cull,” he said. “I would drift about 100 to 150 yards off of my spot every time because I didn’t have anybody else to run my trolling motor for me. It was very hard.”
The team got a break when a forecast of severe weather from tropical storm Cindy caused tournament officials to postpone the second day of the championship. “I was actually kind of glad they postponed it,” Floyd said. The off day gave Floyd a chance to recover from his illness and get ready for the final day. Gibbons said he spent his day off shopping at a local tackle store, cleaning the house where they were staying and doing laundry.
With both teammates fishing on the final day, the South Florence High anglers both threw the jig and craw to catch a 23-2 limit and clinch the national title. “We flipped some shallow bushes but most of the bites were deep,” the 18-year-old Floyd said.
Their deep fish were hugging the bottom along ledges 22 to 23 feet deep. Floyd said they had their limit by 7:30 a.m., and he estimated they caught about 40 to 50 keepers throughout the day.
Floyd is a senior so it was his last chance to win the championship while Gibbons, a junior, has one more year of eligibility. They decided to “swing for the fences” on the final day. “We threw as many times as we could and fished as hard as we could and never quit,” Floyd said.
Rounding out the Top 5 of the championship were the Henry County High School team of Shawn Burkhart and Gavin Gordon in second place with 42-15; Logan Milsaps and Spencer Childers of the Pickens Bass Fishing team, third, 42-5; Zachary Featherston and Adrian Murar, Yuba Sutter Fishing Club, fourth, 40-15; and Samuel Vandagriff and Matthew Vandagriff, Warren County Pioneer Anglers, fifth, 40-6.
Winning the $500 scholarship for catching the Big Bass of the championship was Stephen Cross Mathis of Broome High School. Mathis caught a 9-0 largemouth on a black-and-blue 9/16-ounce jig while flipping to a dock in about 8 feet of water at about 1:30 p.m. today.
The tournament included 461 anglers on 231 high school teams from across the nation and Ontario, Canada.
The high school competitors were awarded $22,750 in scholarship funds from B.A.S.S. and its sponsors. Bethel University presented $48,000 in scholarship money to the winners if they choose to attend the school in McKenzie, Tenn.
The local hosts for the event were the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce, Henry County Tourism and Bethel University.