Mississippi Teenagers Win Costa Bassmaster High School Central Open Bass Tournament
MANY, La. —

Caleb Gatwood and Cayden Soberoski came to the Costa Bassmaster High School Series Central Open looking to qualify for a spot in the Costa Bassmaster High School National Championship tournament in August.

The young duo from Oak Grove (Miss.) High School did that and more on Monday on Toledo Bend Reservoir — they also won the Costa Bassmaster High School Central Open.

And they did so in truly unique fashion, by only bringing three bass to the scales. However, two of those three fish were the hogs Toledo Bend is known for producing. Gatwood caught a 6-pound, 8-ounce lunker, and he followed it up with another that weighed 6-5.

Soberoski hooked his team’s final fish of the day; a small one that only weighed 1-7, but it could be considered the most important fish of all. Had he not boated that bass, the Mississippi teenagers still would have qualified for nationals, but they wouldn’t have clinched the Central Open.

Their 14-pound, 4-ounce total was enough to win first place in the tournament, and also $1,000 for the Oak Grove High School team. In all, 98 teams of anglers from 10 different states took part in the competition. The Top 10 teams earned spots in the national championship on Kentucky Lake in early August, and the Top 13 duos won money for their prep squads.

“We were hoping we’d get a top position, but with only three fish, I was nervous,” Gatwood, a 17-year old incoming senior, said. “It’s a high school tournament, so you don’t expect 25-pound bags everywhere, but you’d think you’d see one. I was thinking we had a shot (to win,) but it was slim.”

The Mississippi-based squad got off to a hot start early on Toledo Bend. Between 8:30-9:15 a.m., Gatwood hooked his two big fish on a shaky head jig with a long magnum finesse worm on it. He was fishing in about 30 feet of water off points, and casting toward an underwater hump in about 25 feet.

Then things went quiet for the boys, as the sun beat down relentlessly in the Louisiana afternoon. They caught a fish that was a throwback, but in the final 15 minutes, Soberoski boated the 1-7 bass that made all the difference.

“I finally caught a fish, and it was the fish that kept us in first place,” Soberoski said. “Normally I fish decent in deep water, but I had a tough day. I was fishing a Carolina rig, but wasn’t getting much action at all.”

Gatwood and Soberoski weighed in relatively early on Monday at Cypress Bend Park, and after assuming the hot seat, they stayed there until the very end. With many teams weighing behind them, they chatted nervously at times and stared intently at other anglers’ bags as they were brought to the stage.

It was only when the last pair of anglers brought just over 3 pounds to the scales that Gatwood and Soberoski knew they had won the Central Open.

Now, they turn their attention to Kentucky Lake. Soberoski, a 16-year old rising junior at Oak Grove (which is located just outside of Hattiesburg, Miss.,) said he’s never been to nationals, and is relishing the chance.

“I’m stoked,” he said. “I know it’s going to be fun.”

“This is really nice,” Gatwood said. “Winning here is great, but I want one in Kentucky too.”

The Top 10 teams after Gatwood and Soberoski were second, Dailus Richardson and Trevor McKinney of Benton (Ill.) High School, 13-13; third (tie) Will Moffett and Kyle McCormick of Franklin County (Miss.), and Hunter Muncrief and Landen McCary of West Sabine Bass Club (Texas), 12-9; fifth, Ben Abraham, Alexandria (La.) Senior High School 12-5; sixth, Grant Bourque and Ethan Smart of Ascension (La.) Anglers, 12-2; seventh, Kole Greer and Kyler Radford of North DeSoto (La.) High School, 11-14; eighth, Stephen Whitlow and Jared Young of Sarasota (Fla.) High School, 11-14; ninth, Wesley Holt and Colby Miller of Oak Hill (La.) High School, 10-13; 10th, Kyle Everett and Dustin Wellman of DeRidder (La.) High School, 10-11.

Richardson and McKinney — both members of the 2016 Bassmaster High School All-American Fishing Team — had already qualified for the national championship, as had the 11th place team of Laura Ann Foshee and Reid Connor of Gardendale (Ala.) High. That meant the last qualifying spot for nationals was awarded to Noah Sowell and Charles Lee Proctor of Hemphill (Texas) High, who placed 12th at Toledo Bend with a four-fish catch of 9-14.

Bourque landed the big bass of the tournament with a 6-15 largemouth.