Juniors: Hartley’s Hawgs take Championship

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Emily Hand

HUNTINGDON, Tenn. – Mike Abbott and Braden McNamara were the second-best junior team in Ohio this year, but they were the best in the Bassmaster Junior Championship which concluded here on Wednesday.

Abbott and McNamara caught a two-day total of ten bass that weighed 20 pounds, 3 ounces on Carroll County (Tenn.) 1,000 Acre Recreation Lake. That was nine ounces more than North Carolina’s Hunter Alexander and Hayden Hammond, who had the lead after Day 1 and finished second overall with 19-10.

Abbott and McNamara both are 14 and will start high school in a few weeks. They are members of Hartley’s Hawgs, the team sponsored by longtime pro and Ohio resident Charlie Hartley.

It was the third time Abbott qualified for the junior championship and the second for McNamara. They hadn’t fished together at nationals previously, but they earned another entry after teaming for a runner-up finish in the Ohio B.A.S.S. Nation State Championship.

“This is our last year to be able to fish juniors,” McNamara said. “We just wanted to end on a bang.”

That they did.

Abbott and McNamara caught an 11-0 limit on Tuesday, which was good enough for second place but left them a full 3-4 behind Alexander and Hammond. The Ohio tandem remained steady with a 9-3 sack on Wednesday, and they assumed the hot seats about midway through the final weigh-in.

Alexander and Hammond were the last team to weigh on Wednesday, and they had only 5-6 in their sack, which allowed Abbott and McNamara to vault past them for the championship.

“These guys picked the spot we were going to fish when we were sitting in the garage 500 miles from here,” said Brian McNamara, Braden’s dad and the duo’s boat captain this week. “It’s the same spot we fished both days of this tournament. It was a 100-yard ditch. I have no idea how they came up with it, but it worked.”

The spot proved itself in practice when Abbott caught a 10-pounder. But after drawing boat number 52 (in a 62-boat field) to begin Day 1, the boys were concerned another team would beat them to their spot of choice.

None did, however, and Team Ohio went to work -- McNamara with a Bass Pro Shops 1/4-ounce tungsten finesse jig with a YUM Christie Craw trailer, and Abbott with a similar custom jig. They caught a limit early on Day 1, with McNamara’s 4-10 anchoring the bag.

The bite was more difficult Wednesday, with Abbott and McNamara catching only seven or eight keepers. McNamara also was without the jig he used Tuesday after the knot slipped during a cast and the lure sank to the bottom of Carroll County 1,000 Acre Recreation Lake.

“That kind of hurt,” he said. “I had just tied it on and it just fell off.”

So McNamara threw a custom jig on Wednesday instead, and Abbott chose a Strike King Bitsy Flip, also with the Christie Craw trailer. The combination worked, and they were able to catch enough to win the championship.

“I was hoping and praying (on the way here,) thinking what this would be like,” McNamara said. “It’s amazing.”
Abbott agreed.

“Having a trophy that says national champion is incredible,” Abbott said. “It took me three years to figure this lake out. I’m glad I finally did.”

Abbott and McNamara won a $2,000 scholarship that will be dedicated to their college education. Alexander and Hammond, both 13 and heading into the eighth grade, won a $1,000 scholarship for finishing second. They fish with the Rowan County (N.C.) junior team.

Ryder Krueger and Carson Yero of the Myakka City (Fla.) Junior Bassmasters finished third with 17-14 over two days. The 13-year-old eighth graders also weighed the heaviest bass of the tournament – a 9-0 lunker that sent parents and fans at Wednesday’s weigh-in scrambling for their cell phones.

Krueger caught the bass on a Strike King Rage Tail Space Monkey at about 8:30 a.m. It accounted for just more than half of their two-day weight.

“I cast out and it thumped (my lure) really hard. I set the hook on it and it jumped two times. I knew it was a good one.”

“Once I saw it, I knew I had to get the net,” Yero said. “We were full of excitement.”

In all, 32 states and Canada were represented at nationals. Teams qualified for the tournament via their individual state championship events.

The Carroll County (Tenn.) Chamber of Commerce, Bethel University and the Henry County (Tenn.) Tourism Authority hosted the Bassmaster Junior Championship.