Sam Houston team wins HS Open

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Andrew Canulette

MANY, La. -- Hunter Courvelle and Alex Erickson spent so much time in the hot seat, their legs may have fallen asleep.

After being among the first few dozen of 181 duos to weigh in for the 2017 Costa Bassmaster High School Central Open presented by DICK'S Sporting Goods, they occupied the top of the leaderboard for nearly two hours. Team after team came to the stage to weigh their bass, but none could knock the Sam Houston (La.) High School tandem from their perch.

Then with only two duos remaining, the 2015 Bassmaster High School National Champions Alex Heintze and Justin Watts came to the scales at Cypress Bend Park. Word was they had a great bag, and they did. But it wasn't enough to bump Courvelle and Erickson from the pole position.

Courvelle and Erickson caught a limit of five bass weighing 23 pounds, 3 ounces to win the tournament held on Toledo Bend Reservoir on Saturday. Heintze and Watts of the Livingston Parish (La.) Bassmasters, came in second with a bag of 22-3, and Carter Pourciau and Zach Naquin of Assumption (La.) High were third with 20-14.

Courvelle and Erickson's limit was one ounce shy of the one-day record posted in Bassmaster High School tournament history. In fact, it was Watts and Heintze who set that mark back in 2015 during their national championship win on Kentucky Lake in Tennessee.

Both of the Sam Houston High anglers breathed a heavy sigh of relief when they dodged the Heintze/Watts bullet. Only a moment later, they were hoisting championship trophies and mugging for pictures snapped by well-wishers who withstood a steady rain to view the weigh-in.

"It's a great feeling," Erickson said. "We fish here almost every weekend, so we know some of the spots where we should go."

It was, however, a flat the duo located in practice that they fished on Saturday, and it was extremely productive. They were fishing in about 6-8 feet of water with Carolina-rigged Flukes in watermelon red color. They had five keepers in the boat by 9 a.m. and Erickson landed the lunker of the creel about 12:30 p.m. That big fish weighed approximately 7 ½ pounds, but it wasn't the biggest bass he's ever landed.

"We fish up here every weekend this time of year," Erickson said. "It's about an hour and half drive from home (in Lake Charles). So we see some big bass."

Toledo Bend is known for lunker bass, and Courvelle said the set-up they used in the Central Open was productive for a couple of reasons.

"We were fishing some deeper water and in the wind, it was easier to use that Carolina-rigged fluke," he said. "It was about 5 inches long, and it was easier to get it down in the water."

Courvelle and Erickson couldn't celebrate their catches too loudly, however. That's because Saturday's honey hole was only a couple hundred yards from the Cypress Bend Marina and there was ample traffic through that area during the day.

Erickson's big fish came out of Housen Bay on the Texas side of the reservoir, said boat captain Keith Courville. "There was a lot of adrenaline, but we didn't want to make much noise," Erickson said. "Someone might see our spot."

They didn't, but everyone did see the pair of high school juniors clinch a spot in the upcoming Bassmaster High School Classic which will be held in Houston at the end of March, in conjunction with the GEICO Bassmaster Classic. The top five teams at the Central Open earned spots in the High School Classic, and the top 19 teams advanced to the Costa Bassmaster High School National Championship to be held in June. Courvelle and Erickson also earned $1,500 for their high school bass team with the win.

Heintze and Watts fished with Carolina rigs and football head jigs in a dozen feet of water to boat their haul on Saturday. Other teams advancing to the Bassmaster High School Classic include Nolan Wright and Coltin Pool of Blanchard (Okla.) High (fourth place, 19-5), and Jackson Hall and Daniel Helsley of Lovejoy (Texas) High (fifth place, 19-3).

The Big Bass award went to Hunter Martin and Justin Jacob of Lutcher (La.) High. Martin landed a lunker that weighed 8-11.

Warm weather during the previous few days leading up to the Central Open gave way to cooler temperatures with highs in the low 60s on Saturday.

Of the 181 teams, 80 of them had bags that weighed double digits, with 16 of those hauls weighing at least 15 pounds.