Robinson and Abbott score home-state victory in Bassmaster High School Championship on Lake Hartwell

Mitchell Robinson and Cody Abbott outlasted intense heat, a tough summer bite on Lake Hartwell and 480 other teams from across North America to win the 2023 Strike King Bassmaster High School Championship presented by Academy Sports + Outdoors.

The 17-year-old incoming seniors from South Carolina’s Byrnes High School finished the three-day derby with nine bass weighing 33-3. That haul included a 12-5 bag on Saturday — the second heaviest of the tournament. They were in third place after an 11-15 limit on Day 1 but dropped to fifth on Day 2 after catching 8-15.

That set them up for a rally on Saturday. It came early with a 5 1/2-pound largemouth they caught 10 minutes after takeoff.

“We knew this morning when we had that fish that we’d set ourselves up for a great day,” Robinson said. “You have to catch a kicker. If you don’t, you’re not gonna win. After that, it was a matter of just getting two more bites. We got the right ones.”

Robinson and Abbott live in the Spartanburg area about an hour up Interstate 85 from Green Pond Landing, where daily takeoffs and weigh-ins were held. They fish Lake Hartwell several dozen times a year, but the spot they frequented for some of the week’s best action was new to them.

“We were using crankbaits, a shallow-running (shad-colored Rapala) DT6,” Robinson said. “We’d throw it under bridges, on laydowns, rocks. You just had to burn it. The fish were pressured all week, so you had to make them want it. The big one came in about 6 feet of water, but there was a deep hole near this area that was anywhere from 20 to 50 feet. The fish were suspended. We’d throw to points and drops. We call them trains because you can see them lined on the Garmin LiveScope.”

When the teens needed another reliable bite, they went to brushpiles they plotted in practice; spots that held a steady stream of 3-pound bass. They relied on a weightless Zoom Trick Worm (green pumpkin) to boat bass in the brush.

“The bluegill would grab it and the bass would swim up there and eat it,” Robinson said.

This was the fourth time Robinson and Abbott qualified for Nationals, but their first Top 12 finish (their previous best was 14th).

They said competing on the final day — and coming from behind to win — was special.

“You really can’t describe this feeling,” Abbott said. “We sat in the hot seats waiting, and I almost couldn’t see I was shaking so badly. But when we won, it was a feeling you know you might not have again. You have to cherish this with the ones you love.”

That includes Tommy Abbott, the team’s boat captain and Cody’s dad. Saturday was Tommy’s 53rd birthday, and he couldn’t imagine a better present.

“This is incredible,” Tommy Abbott said. “They wanted this so bad … To come from a 2-pound deficit with a three-fish limit is next to impossible. But today, they went to work and brought it home. I’m so proud of them.”

The victory earned the teens a $5,000 scholarship to split, part of $22,950 in scholarship money awarded to the Top 12 teams at the championship.

South Carolina’s Bryson Gurley and Ethan Evatt finished second with 32-8, followed by Georgia’s Wyatt Richards and Colby Goforth with 30-14 and Alabama’s Avery Padgett and Ethan Young with 28-10.

Virginia’s Kasey Ferguson and Jakari Thomas, the Day 1 leaders, finished with the Big Bag of the Tournament with the 12-7 limit they weighed Thursday. That earned them the Hunter Owens Scholarship, $1,000 each, in memory of the former Louisiana high school angler who died in a car accident in 2019. They finished 12th place overall with 22-15.

Tennessee’s Ty Trentham and Chase McCarter won the $200 Big Bass Award, courtesy of the 6-15 largemouth they caught on Day 1.

This marked the 10th year B.A.S.S. held a national championship high school tournament, and the second consecutive year it’s been at Lake Hartwell. A total of 481 teams from 35 states and Canada competed.

Visit Anderson hosted the tournament.