Defending Champions Maintain Lead On Day 2 Of High School Championship
PARIS, Tenn. —

Two hurdles cleared and only one more to go for Grayson Morris and Tucker Smith at the Mossy Oak Fishing Bassmaster High School National Championship presented by Academy Sports + Outdoors.

The tournament’s defending champions maintained their lead on the 300-team field by catching a limit of five bass Friday that weighed 17 pounds, 11 ounces. That gave them a two-day total of 37-6, which is more than 4 pounds heavier than their nearest challenger for the championship.

Morris and Smith are representing Briarwood Christian School, which is located in Birmingham, Ala. Morris, 18, recently graduated from the school, and Smith, 17, is a rising senior.

Though they stayed atop the leaderboard, Morris and Smith struggled again on Friday to find keeper bites.

They had only one bass in the live well at 11 a.m., which had them concerned. They aren’t alone, as Kentucky Lake has been difficult for many teams to read this week. On Friday, 129 duos failed to weigh a fish, and on Thursday, 97 teams met a similar fate.

Morris and Smith caught their fifth keeper just before 3 p.m. Friday and headed to Paris Landing State Park for weigh-in, confident they had enough to hang onto the lead.

“We were pretty relaxed this morning, just wanting to go out and have fun,” Morris said. “But we were boat 300 today, so I had some butterflies waiting to go. When we didn’t get a bite until 10:30 a.m., I was like ‘Oh no.’ We wound up only getting a bite like every two hours.”

“You try not to think about it. You just have to go out and fish,” Smith said.

The duo is hoping to catch a limit much earlier on Saturday, but they’re prepared for another day of hard work to keep their lead and win consecutive national titles.

“We’ve just got to keep grinding,” Morris said. “We’ll keep the trolling motor in the water.”

Smith said they encountered some angling pressure on Friday, but that’s shouldn’t be the case on Saturday with the field cut to 12 after the Day 2 weigh-in.

“It’s a new day,” Smith said.

While some teams have fought to figure out Kentucky Lake, Mercedes Ellis and Gage Sherrod are not one of them.

Ellis and Sherrod, who attend Henry County (Tenn.) High School just a few miles down U.S. 79 from Paris Landing State Park, caught a 19-4 limit on Friday, which was the heaviest of the day. Their two-day total of 33-1 has them in second place overall.

The locals focused on brush piles through the first two days of the tournament and plan to do so again with a championship in their sights.

“We know a ton of spots here,” Sherrod said. “Every day we’ve fished in practice and in the tournament, we’ve averaged about 16 or 17 pounds. When you have all these people from around the country, some of them get on the fish more than others. We know the bites will be slow, but we know the fish are there and we know how to catch them. We just have to stay patient.”

Ellis had the big bass of the day – a 6-5 kicker she pulled from a pocket that had sticks to provide structure and a ditch draining into it.

“Everyone definitely heard me (yelling) when I caught it,” Ellis said. “There was a lot of excitement.”

Daelyn Whaley and Lilly Smith from Abbeville (S.C.) High are in third place with 32-8 over two days. They are fishing shallow water; a strength they learned at home.

Whaley and Smith struggled, too, on Friday morning, but their favorite spot turned on again around noon, and they soon had a limit in the livewell.

“It’s the spot, but it’s the presentation, too,” Whaley said of her team’s success. “We don’t fish offshore. Even if they’re catching offshore, we don’t like to. We’re doing what we like to do, and that helps a lot. Also, we had to push and work our way in there. It’s hard work, but it’s been worth it.”

Whaley has fished in four consecutive national championships and she’s now made the top 12 in three of those years, and with three different partners, to boot.

Smith said she thinks a national title is possible.

“We could have kept catching them today, but we didn’t to pressure them too bad,” Smith said. “When we thought we had enough to qualify for (Saturday,) we decided to leave some for tomorrow.”

Each of the 300 teams competing in the championship qualified via four different Bassmaster High School Series events this year or their respective state team trails.

A total of $22,000 in scholarship awards will be split among the Top 12 teams in the championship. The winning duo will earn a $4,500 gift that will help fund each angler’s college education.

Taj White and Ethan Ryan of the Arizona high School B.A.S.S. Nation still lead for Big Bass of the Tournament with the 6-14 largemouth they caught Thursday.

The third and final day of competition will begin with a 6 a.m. CT take-off from Paris Landing State Park. Weigh-in will begin at 2 p.m., also from the state park.

The Carroll County (Tenn.) Tourism Authority, Henry County (Tenn.) and Bethel University are hosting the event.