BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — When 10 of the top high school bass fishing teams competed in an exhibition tournament in conjunction with the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by Diet Mountain Dew and GoPro, it was the team of Jake Lee and Jacob Mashburn who took the trophy on the Classic stage on Saturday.
The students from Clinton High School in Tennessee weighed in an impressive 21 pounds — almost 7 pounds ahead of the No. 2 team, also from Clinton High School.
Eight of the teams qualified to compete in the tournament through the inaugural Bassmaster High School Invitational last spring. Another team qualified through the Alabama Games, while the final team earned its spot in the competition through the Alabama B.A.S.S. Nation.
The winners caught their fish on Showboat Lures’ Alabama Rigs with 1/8-ounce swimbait heads. One angler rigged his swimbaits with Zoom Fat Albert curl-tail grubs dipped in Spike-It chartreuse garlic formula. The other used Showboat Lures' Chicken Foot swimbaits.
Lee and Mashburn caught their fish in the Cedar Creek area after targeting main-lake points and a bridge.
“You had to work the bait very slowly,” Mashburn said. “We caught them all day, and the longest we went between catches was about an hour. It was exciting all day. But you can’t ever get (too comfortable). We were fishing hard all day.”
Lee said his team got off to a quick start and saw improvements throughout the day.
“This morning, we had our limit by 8:30,” he said. “It seems like later on in the day we were moving up in size. In the afternoon we were catching better fish. It was all around a great day.”
Clinton High School’s Justin Burris and Ryan Winchester took second place with 13 pounds, 8 ounces of Lay Lake largemouth. They also fished Cedar Creek with Alabama Rigs. Their primary targets were riprap banks.
“We used Showboat Lures' Chicken Foot swimbaits and Featherweight heads, and that made the difference in how we caught our fish today. We were able to catch our fish shallower than we could with weighted heads,” Winchester said. “It’s a head with hot glue poured into a lead mold. It makes fishing an Alabama Rig 10 times easier on you, and you can put it places you can’t put a weighted (head).”
High school competitors took off at 6:10 a.m. from Beeswax Landing in Columbiana and weighed in at 3 p.m. at the BJCC Arena in Birmingham prior to the Day 2 weigh-in of the 55 Bassmaster Classic competitors. Classic anglers are battling for a $300,000 first prize, the Classic trophy and world championship title.
Teams competed for bragging rights in this event, which officially kicks off the 2014 high school initiative with B.A.S.S.
“This is a fantastic event because youth are obviously the future of our sport,” said Hank Weldon, Bassmaster manager for high school, college and youth programs. “For these youngsters to be able to walk across the Bassmaster Classic stage is a great experience they’ll never forget.”
Lee agreed and added, “This is something I’ve dreamed about since I was a kid. It’s the greatest feeling we could ever imagine so I thank the good Lord for helping us with that.”
Mashburn said the experience has stoked his dreams of a making a career of tournament fishing.
“That’s all I think about all the time,” Lee said. “I’d like nothing better than to be up there with the real pros someday."
Also competing were: Mitchell Gowen and Briana Tucker of Decatur Heritage Fishing Eagles, Christopher Bensel and Ben Stone of Dixie High School, Jarrett Martin and Billy Powers of Gallia Academy High School, John Garrett and Peyton Lyons of Obion County Student Anglers, Hayden Bartee and Zeke Gossett of Pell City High School, Austin Brown and Baily Dukes of Plainview High School, Tanner Jones and Clay Teague of Tuscaloosa County High School and Beau Ashcraft and Shawn Zellers of Wabash Valley Bassmasters.