Sumrell and Harp notch decisive win at Bassmaster High School Series event on Douglas Lake

A profound lack of clarity gave James Sumrell and Brody Harp the clear advantage, as the Hixson Bass Team duo caught a five-bass limit of 18 pounds, 11 ounces and won the Strike King Bassmaster High School Series at Douglas Lake.

Outpacing their nearest competitors, Kaleb Winstead and Zachary Hudgens of the Scotts Hill High School Anglers, by a 4-1 margin, Sumrell and Harp took home the $3,767 team prize and earned a spot in the Strike King Bassmaster High School Series Championship scheduled for Aug. 1-3 at Chickamauga Lake.

“This is more than a fishing tournament to us; this is what we fight for every day,” Harp said. “It’s not only a learning experience, but we have a love for the outdoors.

“We are just very, very thankful for every second we’re able to spend out here on the water.”

Based in Chattanooga, the winners practiced up the French Broad River and found familiar conditions that seemed to intimidate competitors, but fit squarely into their wheelhouse.

“We stayed up in the river all day, fishing the current,” Sumrell said. “Yesterday, in practice, there were about 10 boats in the area where we caught our fish, but we were the only people up there today.

“Back home, we fish the Tennessee River below Chickamauga Dam and Watts Bar Dam, so we’re very comfortable fishing in chocolate muddy water with lots of current. I think a lot people got scared when they saw that, but we were excited to see it.”

As Sumrell explained, the extreme turbidity congregates bass into tighter areas, shrinks the strike zone and forces the fish to make quick decisions. The winners tempted bass with 1/2-ounce tandem Colorado blade spinnerbaits with chartreuse swimbait trailers.

Sumrell and Harp used white/chartreuse and black/blue spinnerbait patterns. The former produced four of their five weight fish.

“We were targeting small current breaks and isolated pieces of wood in 2 to 5 feet,” Sumrell said. “We were casting at a 45-degree angle to the bank and reeling just as slowly as we could and feeling each blade thump.

“We were deflecting off of rocks, or tree limbs or over (debris) piles. We tried to keep the baits in the fish’s strike zone and present them in the best way possible with the current.”

Pointing to a key element of their strategy, Harp said he and Sumrell spent their day on a single mile-long stretch.

“We just fished up and down, up and down,” Harp said. “That’s what we really look for whenever we practice — we want to select a certain area where we can meander and move in and out.”

Around 10:30, Sumrell anchored his team’s bag with a 5-8 kicker that bit the chartreuse/white bait. That fish ate when Sumrell bumped a branch on a prominent tree that would also produce two more of their limit fish.

While the winners entered the day confident in their game plan, the overall results far exceeded their expectations.

“Originally, we were just shooting for five big bites all day, and then it just produced all throughout the morning and early afternoon,” Harp said. “We boated over 30 fish today.

“We thought we had a good chance (to win), but the majority of the day we didn’t think we were going to break 16 pounds.”

Winstead and Hudgens finished second with 14-10.

Chase McCarter and Ty Trentham of the Sevier County High School Fishing Team placed third with 14-8.

This event was hosted by Visit Jefferson County, TN.