High School Anglers Fish for Their Future
Scholarships and conference tournament berths up for grabs at Kentucky Lake event
By Dominick Schenewerk
MURRAY, Ky. — High school anglers from across the Midwest braved chilly temperatures at Kentucky Lake Saturday in hopes of finding hot spots that would help advance them to the Southeastern Conference Championship on Lake Lanier this fall as well as help fund their college education.
The 150 high school anglers and their coaches awoke to an unusually cold spring morning to compete in the 2015 Murray State High School Fishing Open. Frost-covered decks, gear and tackle, frozen live wells and outboards reluctant to start were among the first challenges those aboard the 75 boats had to deal with at Kentucky Dam Marina.
The event honored the memory of Murray State University’s Dr. Jim Carter, one of the earliest proponents of High School Fishing as a state-sanctioned high school sport. Teams competed for a grand prize of $4,000 in scholarships to Murray State. The scholarships were provided by Independence Bank of Murray and FLW in partnership with the Murray State Bass Anglers.
Winning Team, Pattern and Lures
It’s said that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, but the month didn’t follow the script in its exit this year. High skies and a bitterly cold southeast wind challenged anglers to give it their best throughout the day. In the end three teams advanced to the conference championship, with two fortunate anglers going home with $2,000 each in scholarships.
Nathan Flener and Brandon Payne of Muhlenberg County High School were the top team with an 18-pound, 6-ounce limit. Flener and Payne are both juniors at MCHS, and were among six squads that represented the high school. Muhlenburg County High School Bass Fishing is in its third year as a sanctioned varsity sports team, and is the defending Kentucky High School Athletic Association Bass Fishing State Champion. Flener and Payne will fish the Southeastern Conference Championship on Lake Lanier Sept. 26 along with Alex Tomblinson and Hunter Purdy Madisonville of North Hopkins, who finished second Saturday with 17-14 (5 fish), and Billy Hardison and Alex Taylor of Muhlenberg County, who took third with 16-13 (5 fish).
Having a few years of experience fishing the north side of Kentucky Lake, Flener made clear what his plan for the tournament was the night before at the pre-tournament meeting. It took into account the cold snap, and included an umbrella rig and covering as much water as possible. The pair figured that bass would be cruising the banks in anticipation of the spawn, and that a presentation paralleling the shoreline would be their best bet. The only question was how close to the bank they would need to fish, and how deep brilliant sunshine would position the fish.
The two had a promising start with Payne boating a keeper on his second cast with the umbrella rig. Payne ran gold blades on his rig and Flener silver, with both using Reaction Innovation’s Skinny Dippers. The two soon caught two more keepers before a seeming disaster stuck.
Not a Bad Break After All
Their boat developed minor engine problems that their coach and boat driver was unable to remedy. Left without the means to hit various spots on Flener’s itinerary, the two had no choice but to idle to the nearest bay and grind it out. Flener and Payne spent the rest of the day fishing for bigger bass in the small cove not too far from the launch. As it turned out, the motor trouble wasn’t fatal to their plans. Not only did they finish up their limit, but they were able to cull in the early afternoon, then idle a full 30 minutes to reach the weigh-in.
“The boat trouble helped us because we then had to slow down and actually fish what we could that was close,” Flener says. “We couldn’t just run all over the place, and it made us slow down and focus on what we were doing.”
The bass they caught almost exclusively hit the gold-bladed rigs in the morning and the silver blades in the afternoon. Even so, the anglers were surprised that fish bit as early as they did – three keepers on the first spot.
“After we developed problems with the outboard, I just kept telling Brandon, ‘We can do it. We can do it,” Flener recalled. As it turned out, he was right.
Remembering Jim Carter
Until he died of cancer on Feb. 13, Dr. Jim Carter was a long-time administrator at Murray State University, most recently serving as Vice President for Institutional Advancement. Carter was an iconic figure at Murray State and his roots at the university extend back to his years as an undergraduate there. Carter was a vigorous supporter of collegiate and high school fishing. He played an enormous role in the early stages of sanctioning high school fishing through the KHSAA. He also was instrumental in the formation of the Murray State Bass Anglers. Throughout his years of dedicated service to the surrounding community and undergraduate fishing, he deeply impacted the lives of countless students.
“Jim was one of our biggest supporters from the very beginning,” says Dave Washburn, FLW Vice President of Operations. “He immediately saw how college fishing and high school fishing could benefit schools, athletic associations, sponsors, host communities and, most importantly, students. We could not think of a better way to honor his contributions than to award a scholarship in his honor to the winners of the Murray State High School Fishing Open.”