PARIS, Tenn. — Cutting short their fishing time proved beneficial to Natchitoches Central High School anglers Hunter Owens and Wes Rollo during Thursday’s opening round of the Mossy Oak Fishing Bassmaster High School Series National Championship presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods at Kentucky Lake.
With a couple of their bass struggling in the livewell, Rollo and Owens decided to check in about an hour early and weighed a five-bass limit of 19 pounds, 11 ounces to take the lead.
The Louisiana anglers said their day went as expected from what they learned in practice.
“We started out in practice messing around deep and shallow and in between,” Rollo said. “We found the fish we wanted early on this morning and caught them real quick.”
The bite hit a short lull around 9 a.m. But then Owens caught a 7-2 largemouth, and they culled three times during the next five minutes. When a couple of their fish started bellying up in the livewell, Rollo and Owens headed back to the Paris Landing ramp at 12:40 p.m., so they wouldn’t lose any fish and suffer the penalties.
Owens said they switched between a couple of lures throughout the morning before finally settling on one near the end of their day. He said he believes their areas spots have enough bass to produce the same results Friday.
“We were conservative today,” Owens said. “We didn’t just catch them and catch them (in the same place). We got what we needed for our limit.” Then they tried a couple of new areas and caught a few bass but didn’t cull.
Some last-hour heroics moved the Mount Ida (Ark.) High School team of Fisher Bissell and Fisher Davis into second place with four bass that weighed 19-4.
“It was really tough and really slow,” Bissell said. “We had one big bite (a 7-5 largemouth caught by Bissell) early in the morning, and then we had our last three keepers in the last 20 minutes.”
Davis noted the late flurry took place when they were about to move to another spot. The Arkansas angler said he was lifting the trolling motor with his line still in the water when he noticed the motor was still running.
When he dropped the trolling motor back in the water, he noticed his line was tightening and thought he was snagged on something. But it turned out to be one of the keepers they needed, so they stayed put and caught their next two keepers.
Georgia’s Pickens High School team of Spencer Childs and Owen Moss moved into third place with an 18-9 limit. Childs, who fished in last year’s championship, said the day went better than he expected after a slow practice.
Kyle Simmons and Brett Halstead of Capital City High School in Kansas are in fourth place with 18-3, and Grayson Morris and Tucker Smith of Alabama’s Briarwood Christian School are fifth with 16-10.
The leaders are among 670 anglers from 337 high school teams competing for the national title. The teams qualified through a series of state and regional tournaments.
Two high school anglers are teamed in each boat with an adult boat captain, who serves as a mentor and operates the outboard motor.
The full field of teams will compete again Friday, but the field will be cut to the Top 12 for Saturday’s final round. The teams are vying for $118,000 in scholarship money. B.A.S.S. and its sponsors are awarding $22,000 to the competitors, and Bethel University in McKenzie, Tenn., will be presenting the remaining $96,000.
Hosts of the national championship are Henry County Tourism Authority, Carroll County and Bethel University. Anglers will take off at 5:45 a.m. CT from Paris Landing State Park and return at 1:45 p.m. to weigh in at the same location. The final weigh-in Saturday will switch locations to downtown Paris at 2:30 p.m.