Six fishermen from Warren County High School hooked the opportunity of a lifetime when they competed in the Bassmaster High School Nationals last week on Chickamauga Lake in Dayton.
Only the top 10% of student anglers throughout the country qualify for Bassmaster Nationals, which featured 309 teams. Each team consists of two fishermen and one boat captain who maneuvers the boat but is not allowed to fish.
Gage King and Banks Shaw of Sale Creek High School in Tennessee defended their home-lake advantage Saturday, landing three bass that weighed 20 pounds, 11 ounces on Saturday to win the championship with a three-day total of 45 pounds, 6 ounces.
The second-place team from Louisiana finished with 39 pounds, 5 ounces.
Warren County qualified three teams for the national tournament. The team of Ike Gillentine and Caleb Mackie finished the highest in 31st place.
The national tournament put an end to a high school fishing season which began last August and saw some of the local teams compete in more than 40 tournaments.
At nationals, teams got the chance to pre-fish Chickamauga Lake, which is known for its huge bass, last Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The tournament was Thursday and Friday with the top 12 teams advancing to Saturday’s championship day.
“It was an absolutely amazing experience,” said WCHS’s Jacob Frizzell of nationals. “Four teams from Tennessee finished in the top 12 and a team from Tennessee won it. It was the first time a team from Tennessee won nationals so that place got pretty loud when they announced it.”
Frizzell said he and partner J.T. Walls started the tournament with “a whopper” on Thursday morning when they landed a 6-and-a-half pounder. But they couldn’t match that catch the rest of the tournament.
Highlights from the tournament will air on ESPN at a time to be determined.
Lane Lassiter fished with partner Braxton Campbell. Lassiter said they enjoyed great success in the pre-fish by hitting grass patches in 2-3 feet of water. He said they averaged about 13 pounds a day in the pre-fish, which would have easily qualified them for Saturday.
But the water level was up about 6 inches on Thursday, which changed fishing conditions.
“The fish left the grass,” said Lassiter.
Lane and Braxton enjoyed a strong fishing season, traveling to tournaments as far away as Leesburg, Fla., and Saginaw Bay, Mich. Both of those trips were about 12 hours, Lane said.
“High school fishing has blown up in Tennessee the last three years,” said Lane. “There are 3,500 anglers and that’s just in Tennessee. Warren County has become one of the top schools. We had a very strong year.”
Anglers fish in the heat, cold and rain during a season that spans the entire school year. January is traditionally the only month where no fishing tournaments are scheduled.
Both Frizzell and Lassiter graduated in May and Bassmaster Nationals was their final high school tournament. However, they are both going to remain active with the WCHS team. Lassiter is president of the booster club, while Frizzell is vice president.
“I bought a boat in January so I’m going to be a boat captain for any team that needs a captain,” said Frizzell. “The booster club wants to make sure anyone who wants to fish can fish.”
Lassiter added, “Some of these tournaments can be expensive.”