Winford and Ratliff win High School on Toledo Bend

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Ronnie Moore

MANY, La. – Maverick Winford and Ian Ratliff have been on a hot streak, and it continued Sunday on Toledo Bend Reservoir in the Mossy Oak Fishing Bassmaster High School Series presented by Academy Sports + Outdoors.

The duo from the Atascocita (Tex.) Top Gun Anglers club caught a five-bass limit that weighed 18 pounds, 4 ounces and clinched the title on this 185,000-acre lake straddling the Louisiana/Texas border. The victory earned $1,930 for the Top Gun team, and it also qualified Winford and Ratliff for the Mossy Oak Fishing Bassmaster High School Series National Championship later this year.

Sunday’s title marked the second consecutive week Winford and Ratliff were victorious in a tournament. They won a B.A.S.S.-sanctioned team trail tournament last week on Texas’ Sam Rayburn Reservoir, which is about an hour’s drive west of Toledo Bend, and placed second in another derby on Rayburn two weeks ago.

“It was exactly the same conditions for all three tournaments,” said Winford, a 17-year old junior. “It feels really good to win again, and it’s amazing to be able to go to the national championship and see what we can do there.”

Winford boated the Texas tandem’s biggest bass, a 6-6 largemouth he plucked from a grass bed in North Housen Bay about 9:20 a.m. Winford threw a Jackhammer chatterbait to get that bite, but a Carolina-rigged Zoom Brush Hog (watermelon candy) also was effective for both anglers on Sunday.

“I set the hook and I thought it was a 2-pounder because he was running at me,” Winford said. “I saw it jump and I said ‘Ian, get the net! Get the net!’ It went under the boat, but when it came back up, he netted it.”

Winford and Ratliff finished their limit in North Housen, and eventually decided to head south on the reservoir. The water was dirty there, but they still were able to upgrade twice.

Winford has had success on Toledo Bend before, and he targeted areas Sunday where he caught fish previously. It was the first time fishing Toledo Bend for Ratliff, a 15-year old freshman, but he contributed a couple 2 ½ to 3-pounders that helped advance the winning weight.

Brothers Matthew and Christopher Kahrs of Barbe High School in Lake Charles, La. finished second overall with three bass that weighed 15-6, but the 10-9-giant Matthew caught Sunday was the talk of the tournament.

Kahrs, a 17-year old senior, caught the big bass in 10 feet of water using a Zoom Baby Brush Hog in watermelon candy color. Because it weighed at least 10 pounds, the bass qualified for the Toledo Bend lunker program. A photo of the bass was taken and a taxidermist will use it to create a cast for Kahrs to keep. The fish itself was returned to the reservoir only minutes after weigh-in was complete.

“My previous best was a 5-0 that I caught here in another tournament,” Kahrs said. “This was a completely different feeling. It was amazing.”

A total of 174 duos from 12 different states competed in the one-day event, and the top 12 duos split a cash purse worth more than $6,600 to benefit their high school fishing teams.

Also, the Top 10 percent of high school pairs tandems entered here (17 teams in all) earned berths to the Mossy Oak Fishing Bassmaster High School National Championship later this summer. The date and location of that annual three-day tournament have not been announced.

The Toledo Bend tournament was the first of four regular season stops scheduled in the 2020 Bassmaster High School Series. Additional tournaments will be held at Smith Lake in Alabama on March 1 and Cumberland Lake in Kentucky on May 9. Another high school event is scheduled for June 20, though the location has not been disclosed.

The Louisiana Office of Tourism, Toledo Bend Lake Country, the Sabine River Authority, Desoto Parish Tourist Commission and the Vernon Parish Tourist Commission sponsored the Toledo Bend tournament.

Ronnie Moore