ALEXANDER CITY, Ala. – Many of the anglers in Saturday’s Costa Bassmaster High School Southern Open talked of catching lots of bass in practice, only to strike out on tournament day.
But the opposite happened for Josh Powers and Cole Stewart.
After struggling most of the week to figure out Lake Martin in practice, the two juniors from Tennessee’s Grundy County High School Bass Team scored at just the right time, landing five fish Saturday that weighed 14 pounds, 4 ounces to top the 203-boat field.
They caught their fish from 60 feet of water, using D&L Jigs with Berkley Chigger Craws as trailers.
“We had a good, solid four days of practice here, and it was pretty rough,” Powers said. “But today, we finally got on some fish in some real deep water, 60 feet. It was a good jig bite, and we caught just enough good fish to win.”
Electronics played a big role in helping the anglers locate their fish – as did the patience that was mandated by their captain, Wesley Taylor.
Taylor had to force the anglers to rest and refuel during the mandatory 10-minute halftime period at 10:15 a.m., and he called seven of the eight allotted timeouts.
The halftime period is in place for anglers to drink fluids, eat snacks, rest and confer with their coaches, while timeouts are in the rulebook specifically to allow the anglers to ask the adults questions. Those are the only times anglers are allowed to talk with their adult coaches and captains about fishing strategy.
“They wanted to just keep fishing straight on through, and I had to make them stop,” Taylor said. “Those seven timeouts probably helped me as much as they helped them. I couldn’t stand it. I was living and dying with every cast.”
Stewart said things didn’t go their way all day.
“We lost a couple of good fish that could have really helped us in the long run,” he said. “They were big fish that would have really pushed our weight up.”
They were afraid the mishaps would hurt them at the scales, and they almost did.
One of the final few teams to weigh in was Bailey Fain and Justin Selvidge from Tennessee’s Lenoir City High School Bass Club. The two sophomores brought five bass to the scales that weighed 14-1, barely missing the mark set by Powers and Stewart.
“Our day was kind of slow until halftime,” Fain said.
“We only had two keepers at halftime, but we finished off a limit by about 12 o’clock and started culling by about 2:30. We only caught about six fish total all day.”
Besides the usual calculation of pounds and ounces, a new feature of the tournament was the “Costa Moment.” At each high school event, a moving act of courage, kindness or courtesy will be identified on stage and recognized for the honor.
The honor at this event went to Mason Felps of the Cullman High School fishing team. Instead of his usual Cullman jersey, Felps wore the yellow jersey his father, Les, wore during his tournament days before he died of cancer back on Oct. 12, 2013.
Feb. 20 would have been his birthday.
“With his birthday coming up, I just felt like honoring him was the right thing to do,” Mason said. “He meant the world to me.”
A total purse of about $12,000 in cash and prizes was awarded to the field with checks made out to the high schools of the winning teams. A check in the amount of $1,500 was awarded to Grundy County High School in honor of Stewart and Powers’ victory.
The top five teams were also given sunglasses from Costa, the new title sponsor of the Bassmaster High School Series.
The top 20 boats in the field qualified for the national championship, which will be held at a site to be announced during next week’s GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro.