Alabama Anglers Lead High School Championship
PARIS, Tenn. —

Aaron Reed and Austin Hamner were among the last boats to leave the dock this morning, and the Alabama teens returned with the heaviest catch of the first round of the Costa Bassmaster High School Championship.


The two anglers from Tuscaloosa, Ala., caught five bass weighing 20 pounds, 3 ounces, to lead high school bass fishing’s national championship, underway this week on Kentucky and Barkley lakes.

“We had a good practice, catching mostly 3-pounders, and carried it over into today,” said Hamner.

“Being in the last flight of boats to leave didn’t hurt us, and we know that our takeoff time tomorrow will be earlier,” added Reed. “Our fish bite best in the morning.”

Reed and Hamner are members of the Northside High School Fishing team in Tuscaloosa. They are among 348 teen anglers from 175 high school teams competing for the national title after qualifying through a series of state and regional tournaments.

Not far behind the leaders with 19-6 are Samuel and Matthew Vandagriff, brothers fishing for Warren County High School in McMinnville, Tenn. Cody Stahl and Tate VanEgmond, of CrossPointe Christian Academy in Georgia, hold down third place with 19-4. Zach Vielhauer and Remington Wagner, fishing for Kickback High School in Kansas, are fourth with 18-13. And in fifth place with 18-6 are Bobby Bauer and C.J. Guest of Carson City High School in North Carolina.

The leaders are following a familiar fishing pattern on the lakes impounded by the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. During summer the bass gravitate to Kentucky and Barkley lakes’ offshore ledges. Those border the river channels and two of the bass’ key needs: food and comfort.

Cooler water is there, and so are schools of baitfish for sustaining their diet. The bass follow the food, making success hinge on the angler being at the right place at the right time.

Hamner and Reed are fishing early in the morning with topwater lures to catch actively feeding bass in shallow water. As the water temperature increases with the sunlight, the anglers are moving into deeper water.

“We have separate areas for catching limit fish and big bass,” explained Reed. “It’s a combination of being there when they are feeding.”

The anglers can weigh five bass per team measuring a minimum of 15 inches in length. The leaders are confident they can repeat the feat on Friday.

“We didn’t catch our limit until 10:30, but that was because of the late takeoff,” added Hamner. “We have four or five really good spots to try tomorrow.”

Like the leaders, the Vandagriff brothers are beginning the day shallow and then moving deeper.

“We culled up to bigger bass from our initial limit,” said Samuel. “We should be able to do it again tomorrow.”

The Vandagriffs caught their limit by 8:30 a.m. and then were able to cull those smaller bass with bigger ones that added up to the weight they brought to the scales.

“We only have two key areas, but that’s all we need,” added Matthew. “We didn’t need to fish the second area, it was that good.”

Fifth-place anglers Guest and Bauer are following the leaders by technique, fishing shallow early and then moving to deep water.

“We’re cranking ledges just like everyone else,” said Guest. “It’s all about being there at the right time and tomorrow we swing for the fences.”

That will be a good idea. After Friday, the field is cut to the Top 12 for the final day of fishing and to determine the national champion.

A coach, whose role is mentoring the anglers, accompanies them in the boat. Teams must take a 15-minute half-time break after four hours of fishing. One-minute timeouts are optional. Hamner and Reed landed their fifth keeper shortly after concluding the break.

Teams are eligible to win $70,250 in scholarship funds. B.A.S.S. is contributing $21,000 and sponsors are providing $9,250. The remaining $40,000 will be awarded by Bethel University in McKenzie, Tenn. The school has the distinction as the first to offer scholarships for members of a collegiate bass fishing team.

Triton Boas will also provide an additional $500 scholarship to each angler through sixth place.

Cap Massey, 14, of Animas, N.M., caught the big bass of the day weighing 8-5. He declined to comment on the lure used to catch the largemouth, saying only that it came from deep water.

The anglers take off at 5:30 a.m. from Paris Landing State Park and return for the weigh-in at 1:45 p.m. Paris Landing hosts the Day 2 weigh-in, while the final weigh-in, including crowning of the national champions, will be at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in downtown Paris.