Junior anglers ready to reel in their dreams

DECATUR, Ala. — They may still be young, but competitors in the 2012 Bassmaster Junior World Championship (JWC) have been looking forward to this opportunity for years.

“I’ve always dreamed about the Junior World Championship,” said Willem Lubbinge, 18, of South Africa. “It’s kind of strange, if you think about it. Everyone here has wanted to be on that stage.”

And tomorrow, Oct. 27, 12 competitors will walk across the weigh-in stage after fishing Wilson Lake in Decatur, Ala. But first they will practice fish today, storing up tactics that they hope will bring in weights even greater than those of their adult counterparts, fishing nearby Wheeler Lake in the 2012 Cabela’s Bassmaster Federation Nation Championship.

Six competitors from each of the two age groups (11 to 14 and 15 to 18) are fishing for the chance to be crowned Junior World champions. Lubbinge, who traveled more than 17 hours to be here, arriving just two days before practice day, said he is ready to hit the water. Lubbinge, a member of the Rebel Bassmasters, will fish with Luke W. Farmer, a 13-year-old angler from Florida and club member of the Big O Teen Anglers Inc.

“We’re both in the sport to develop ourselves,” Lubbinge said about fishing with Farmer. “I don’t find it strange to fish with another person; you can always learn something new.”

Although he wasn’t able to afford another trip to the United States to pre-fish Wilson Lake, Lubbinge said he has done his research and the lake should provide chances to use his strongest techniques — fishing grass and timber, as well as points that drop off into channels. But he said the current on Wilson Lake may be a challenge.

One angler who was able to pre-fish Wilson is Alexander Datz of Ohio. The 14-year-old Boat Boys club member came here in early October, the weekend before the cutoff date. “The water was cleaner than I’m used to,” Datz said, hesitantly admitting that he may have found a few good spots to fish.

The other nine competitors fishing practice day today and competing tomorrow for scholarships to be used for education are: Brandon Johnson, 14, Connecticut, Kent County Bassmasters club; Alex Goff, 15, West Virginia, Mon Valley Bassmasters club; Tyler Clark Maschal, 18, Virginia, Lynchburg Junior Bass Anglers; Nik Autrey, 19, Washington, Inland Empire Bass Club; Blake Betz, 19, Louisiana, Junior Southwest Bassmaster of Denham Springs; Christopher Chandler, 15, Louisiana, Junior Southwest Bassmasters; Tyler Evans, 14, Montana, Grizzly Bassers; Caleb Taylor, 18, Indiana, Indiana Youth and Adult club; and Corey Horelick, 18, Connecticut, Rhode Island Bassmasters.

The 12 junior anglers were paired according to the divisions from which they qualified. Each pair will fish with volunteer boat captains from the Calhoun Community College fishing team and the Alabama B.A.S.S. Federation Nation in Yamaha and Skeeter boat rigs provided for the championship. The volunteer boat captains can only observe and drive the boats; they are not allowed to provide any information to the junior competitors.

These young anglers advanced to the JWC through a number of qualifying rounds on the local, state and divisional levels. Lubbinge, the angler who traveled farther than any other to make it to the JWC, said it’s all about dreaming big.

“You have to keep dreaming big things to achieve big things,” he said.

The competitors will launch tomorrow for the one-day tournament at 6:45 a.m. CT from Safe Harbor, and they’ll cross the B.A.S.S. Federation Nation stage during the adult weigh-in. Video of the weigh-in will be streamed live on Bassmaster.com.