Illinois team of Wilburn and Hill claim Bassmaster High School Series win at Lay Lake

Trevor Wilburn and Kagen Hill live 6 1/2 hours from Lay Lake, but they looked right at home on Saturday, winning the Strike King Bassmaster High School Series at Lay Lake presented by Academy Sports + Outdoors.

The duo from Century High School in the small town of Ullin, Ill., caught 19 pounds, 5 ounces to win the second stop on the 2023 Bassmaster High School Series circuit. The total was nearly 4 pounds more than their nearest competitors in the tournament, which attracted more than 200 teams from 12 states.

“It feels like a once-in-a-lifetime thing to travel this far and have an outcome like this,” Wilburn said.

Willburn and Hill, both 17, caught all their bass on a bluegill-colored spinnerbait with a large gold Colorado blade and a smaller orange Colorado blade. They had a limit in the boat by 10 a.m. and switched to other lures, hoping to trigger even bigger bites. But the spinnerbait was the only one working for them.

“We kept it at the top of the water column, in no more than 4 or 5 feet of water, dragging it through the (dollar grass),” Hill said, noting the 17-pound Seaguar line they used. “If it would get caught in the grass, we’d shake it free and drop it back in.”

Their bite was consistent, too, with the biggest bass weighing an even 5-0. That one fish weighed more than they caught overall in the first Bassmaster High School tournament of the year held in January on Florida’s Harris Chain of Lakes. The teammates finished that derby with only two bass weighing 2-13.

“We’ve been at this for a while now,” Hill said. “We’ve been skunked out. We’ve zeroed. We’ve had close calls. But we finally got one. It’s a very satisfying feeling.”

Their boat captain, Rex Wilburn (Trevor’s dad), agreed.

"This is a pretty emotional moment,” Rex Wilburn said. “They took a butt-kicking down in Florida. But they didn’t give up ... They give it all they’ve got.”

Nick Keith Jr. and Jagger Wells of Alabama’s Munford High School finished second with 15-8. The duo used shaky head jigs (green pumpkin) to catch their best bass, dragging the lures on the reservoir bottom in 6 to 8 feet of water.

Rounding out the Top 5 teams were, third, Alex Barrett and Davis Ray of Alabama’s Fayetteville High School with 15-7; fourth, Avery Padgett and Ethan Young of Alabama’s Zion Chapel High School with 15-6; and fifth, Nolan Holloway and Jackson Fanning of Georgia’s Morgan County High School with 15-4.

Presley Lannom and Trevor Sanford of Tennessee’s Mt. Juliet High School won the Big Bass of the Tournament award with a 5-12.

The Top 25 teams earned a spot in the Strike King Bassmaster High School Series Championship presented by Academy Sports + Outdoors. The date and fishery for that event are yet to be announced.

The tournament was hosted by