It had been a long time coming, and local anglers Sawyer Grace and Austen Cathcart of Russellville High School and the Dover High School Fishing Club claimed the 2012 High School Fishing World Finals crown today on Lake Dardanelle in Russellville, Ark. This is the first time an Arkansas Team has won this event. Even though the fishing had been tough all week with three-digit temperatures, the pair weighed in a five fish limit that weighed 15lbs 15oz. “We started catching em right off the bat this morning. The camera man showed up in our spot and hopped in our boat. Within a few minutes, just after we got mic’ed up, we started hitting ‘em. We caught 5 in a row and even culled one. We caught most our fish on a BB7 and some BB8 Bomber Crankbaits,” the team said.
This team has fished in every World Finals since the beginning. They finished in 3rd overall the first year. “We’ve had a really good experience and we’ve been here since the first year. This high school fishing is a very serious and competitive sport that ranks up there with football,” said Grace. This was bittersweet for Sawyer who just finished high school and plans on fishing collegiately beginning in August. He has been in contention every year and this was finally his and Cathcart’s time to win.
The World Champions were offered a $5,000 scholarship per year each for 4 years to Bethel University’s collegiate bass fishing team in McKenzie, Tenn., making it a $40,000 total offer. Bethel was the first college in the nation to offer scholarships to their bass fishing team. Wilkins Brothers Outdoors in Russellville, Ark. also offered $1,000 Scholarship to Arkansas Tech for each angler of the highest finishing team in Arkansas, which was also the World Champions.
Finishing in second place is the reigning Arkansas High School Fishing State Champions, Devin Baxley and TJ Miller of Greenbrier High School, Ark. They finished the day with a limit that weighed 13 lbs 6 oz. It was another World Finals heartbreaker for the pair. Last year they finished in fourth place overall, which is nothing to be ashamed of when they fished in a 100+ boat field. “We spent 3 to 4 months on this lake this year practicing. We’ve been fishing all week and working hard. It all paid off, we were close to the win but we didn’t quite get it. We had a total of five bites with five keepers,” said the team. “Today was our slowest day so far. Most of our fish came on a Carolina Rig and a jig in a brush pile.” This team is not done just yet. They will be fishing on this lake again in September for the TBF/FLW High School Fishing Conference Championship. If they win this tournament, they advance on the National Championship to compete against the other Conference Champions for $10,000 in scholarships in the spring of 2013.
“The TBF/SAF High School Fishing experience overall has been great and has helped me get my grades up and be a team player,” said Miller. Miller graduated this year and will not be eligible to fish next year in the World Finals. He plans on attending Arkansas Tech. His partner Devin is a little disappointed they weren’t able to win this together before TJ’s eligibility was up. “I hate that he won’t be able to fish it next year, he has been a lot of fun to be around,” said Baxley.
Finishing in third overall, for the second year in a row, is North Carolina State Champions from Bandys High School, brother and sister team KJ and Chelsey Queen. The team also had a limit that weighed 10lbs 15 oz. “We fished hard. We really caught ‘em today, better than we had the last two days. We had a good time out on the water, sacked some fish, but it was just tough getting the big bite,” said KJ.
“It’s been a lot of fun the last two years. It meant a lot to us. Being out there on the water in the boat with my dad and brother, it was a lot of good times. I enjoyed meeting all the people and friends that we will have forever,” said Chelsey. “We will get to fish again together as a team in September at the Conference Championship,” she said. Chelsey just finished high school and is attending college this fall.
Finishing in 4th place was Texas team Tyler Woods and Austin Forrester with 3 fish that weighed 6 lbs 14 oz. Fifth place was Oklahoma State Champions Trevor Yates & Wyatt Smith with 2 fish that weighed 6 lbs 11 oz. Sixth was the Arkansas Team of Ralston Lusby and Jonny Schultz with 4 that weighed 5 lbs 12 oz. In 7th place was Cameron Nesterenko and Trey Purifoy. They weighed in 1 fish, which was also the big bass of the day that weighed 5 lbs 6 oz! That landed them the Lew’s Tackle Big Bass Award for today.
All top 7 teams walked away with several thousands of dollars in tackle, prizes, Cabela’s gift cards and trophies, including items they might use in college such as laptops, TVs, DVD players, XBOX 360’s with Connect and iPods.
TBF awarded a few special awards to our high school teams. The ‘Going the Distance’ award was given to the team from Massachusetts Zack Bowden and Charlie Gordon. They came nearly 1500 miles to take part in this premier event in high school fishing.
The School Spirit Award was easily awarded to the ‘Blue Man Group’ from Gallia Academy Fishing Team in Ohio. They brought two teams and showed up to registration painted blue with their School Initials. They entertained the entire crowd with a school chant even.
At noon today, the teams who participated in the one-of-a-kind and fun consolation tournament for all teams who did not make the top 7 cut weighed in. Their boat captains were also allowed to fish, but with a small twist. They had to catch their first fish with a spin casting rod, which TBF provided for them. They could choose between a blue or purple Hannah Montana Shakespeare rod. It seemed to be the key fish catcher for most teams even!
The overall winning team was the team who weighed in the most species of fish. Today’s winners were Calloway County, Kentucky High School Team of Bracken Robertson, Dillon Starks and Boat Captain William Robertson which netted them each a $200 Cabela’s Gift Cards, Tackle Package donated by Wilkins Brothers and Frogg Toggs. $50 Cabela’s Gift Cards were also awarded to the teams who weighed in the heaviest species of fish. Robertson and Starks had the heaviest gar and minnow. Their alligator gar weighed 19 lbs 6 oz. John Kyle Baxter, Tate Tanner and Robert Baxter had the heaviest striper at 1 lb 4 oz. Ponca City High Team Jenna Beam, Donnie Combrink and Boat Captain Gene Vogt had the largest Drum at 3 lbs 5 oz. Noah Hampton, Brian Coleman and JJ Johnson weighed in the largest largemouth bass at 3 lbs 3 oz. Tanner Whitted, Blake Brown and Ed Whitted won three categories of crappie, sand bass and catfish. Winston Wade, Zach Blanton and Todd May weighed in a whopper of a sunfish with 8 oz.
For information on how to join the new and exciting sport of high school bass fishing, visit www.HighSchoolFishing.org. Find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/hsfishing or follow us on Twitter @hs_fishing.
Photos and daily updates were posted on the High School Fishing World Finals Facebook Page
Images courtesy of The Bass Federation