Juniors: Rowan rules Day 1

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Emily Hand

HUNTINGDON, Tenn. — Hunter Alexander and Hayden Hammond learned how to fish on a handful of the nation’s best bass lakes in their home state of North Carolina. But on Tuesday in the 2019 Bassmaster Junior Championship, their talents took center stage in Tennessee.

The 13-year olds caught a limit of five bass that weighed 14 pounds, 4 ounces to take the Day 1 lead on Carroll County (Tenn.) 1,000 Acre Recreational Lake.

In all, 62 teams from 32 states and Canada qualified for the two-day Championship by way of their individual state events.

Alexander and Hammond won the junior state title on Jordan Lake to reach the Championship, and their bag on Tuesday was anchored by a 6-9 largemouth that was the heaviest bass of the day. Alexander’s catch came mid-morning after he and his partner caught a series of bass too short to keep.

“I told (Hayden) I had a bite, and it’s a big one,” Alexander said. He was fishing deep water with a Carolina rig.

It wasn’t a personal best for Alexander, but it certainly brought a smile to his face Tuesday. The incoming eighth-graders fish for the Rowan County junior team in North Carolina, and they cut their teeth chasing big bass on big-name fisheries such as High Rock Lake and Lake Norman.

Carroll County’s 1,000 Acre Recreational Lake has been known to produce a few sizable bass in previous junior championships, as well. And on Tuesday, it was Alexander’s turn to boat one. The 6-9 was one of only nine keepers they caught, however.

“They fished hard and they didn’t get frustrated when they didn’t have many fish in the boat,” said Todd Hammond, who is the team’s boat captain and Hayden’s dad. “They didn’t have but one or two (fish in the livewell) early this morning, but they grinded through it and fished hard. They didn’t quit, and that means a lot.”

Hayden said the key to success on Wednesday could be to avoid Tuesday’s early drought.

“We want to get a limit first,” he said. “Then we’ll probably go out deeper and try to find a big bite.”

Mike Abbott and Braden McNamara are in second place with a limit that weighed 11-0. The Ohio-based Hartley’s Hogs duo briefly had the big bass of the day, but were surpassed by the tournament leaders only moments later.

Keaton Bassham and Huntley York of Arkansas’ Bass Open are in third with 10-15, and Bo Hollen and Ari Clark of West Virginia’s Mon Valley Bassmasters are fourth with a limit of 9-7.

Hollen caught a 4-10 bass on Tuesday that was a personal best. He and Clark are both 9 and entering the fourth grade. Dustin Hollen, Bo’s dad and the team’s boat captain, said the youngsters are competitors with a focus that belies their age.

“They haven’t fished in many tournaments, but back home, they’re always fishing in the pond or in the creek. They see these older boys they’re up against, but they put their heads down and caught fish,” Dustin said.

Abigail Panak and Rhiauna Switzer of Oklahoma’s Pretty Water Junior Bass Club are in fifth place with five bass totaling 8-12. More than half of that weight came on the 4-9 bass that buoyed their bag.

The young competitors will take-off Wednesday at 6 a.m. CT from the launch at Carroll County 1,000 Acre Recreational Lake. Weigh-in will be held again at 1:30 p.m. near the town square at 19463 W. Main St. in downtown Huntingdon.

The winning duo will receive a $2,000 scholarship that will be dedicated to their college education. The second-place team will win a $1,000 scholarship. The team that catches the heaviest bass after the two days of competition will win a $250 scholarship.

The Carroll County (Tenn.) Chamber of Commerce, Bethel University and the Henry County (Tenn.) Tourism Authority are hosting the championships in Huntingdon this week.