“They’re good,” said Edwin Evers, an Oklahoma pro fishing his fourth world championship. “No doubt about it, they’re serious.”
Evers and his fellow pros volunteered their time as boat captains for the Junior World Championship. On Sunday, that meant guiding, advising and driving a pair of younger anglers. During Monday’s tournament, the pros will serve as observers and boat drivers, but will be unable to assist the competitors.
Evers’ group, in boat number five, happened to weigh in the very first bass of Sunday’s bragging-rights tournament. Although the day’s main agenda was practice, every angler could catch one fish for his or her team and bring it to the weigh-in.
“It was amazing,” said Scott Barnim, 15, of Ennismore, Ontario, Canada. “He has such high knowledge of how to fish, you just listen to everything he says and try to suck it all in.”
Barnim and his fellow competitors in the Junior World Championship are divided into two age groups (11-14 and 15-17). Although the young anglers are winnowed down from a diverse pool fed by 141 Junior BASS Clubs throughout the United States and Canada, they had one thing in common before they arrived in Charlotte: they love to fish and they have been doing it from a very young age.
“Since I could hold a fishing rod, really,” Banim said.
Now they have one more thing in common: they had an opportunity to learn from the world’s best fishermen.
“It was a lot of fun; it helped us a lot,” said Matt Blue, 16, of Portville, N.Y., who fished with Oklahoma City’s Dylan Sharpton, 14, and Brett Hite who, at 25, is the youngest angler in the Classic field. “We learned some new stuff, picked up some techniques.”
“I think it’s great,” said Hite, who is prepping for his second Classic appearance. “They’re finding out exactly what it’s like to come to a big bass tournament. It’s something to set their sights for.”
At the end of the day, the three-man team of Tripper Johnson, 17, of Jackson, Miss., Jacob Wheeler, 13, of Indianapolis, Ind., and pro Jason Quinn of Lake Wylie, S.C. carried the bragging rights tournament, bringing in one fish each that totaled 6 pounds, 11 ounces.
“It went great,” Quinn said. “We each got to catch one fish. They’re real prepared.”
Did he give them any advice?
“Just have fun with it. If they bite, you’re going to catch them. If they don’t bite, you won’t.”
The young anglers spent most of the day doing precisely what their pro boat captains will do during Wednesday’s Classic practice on Lake Wylie: checking out the water, cover and depth at a variety of locations, reading the conditions and how bass are responding to them, and checking the response to a variety of baits. For the most part, the young anglers shook off any fish they caught with an eye to coming back for the biting bass during Monday’s round, which will award $27,000 in scholarships and prizes.
Christopher Baksay, 13, of Monroe, Conn., pulled in a few bass shorter than North Carolina’s 14-inch slot limit and was shaking off a bruiser when it broke his line and vanished.
“Considering it’s my first day out on the lake, I can’t be too disappointed,” said Baksay, brimming with confidence and the kind of interviewing chops most often found among seasoned pros. Baksay and Shelby Bowling, 17, of Charlotte Hall, Md., were chauffeured around Lake Norman by Texas pro Kelly Jordon.
“He was constantly talking,” Baksay said in a kidding, exasperated voice, adding that Jordon sat in the boat, giving tips and letting the competitors get a feel for the lake. At one point, Baksay suggested that Jordon could, you know, quit all the talking and maybe prove he can do all the stuff he was talking about. So Jordon picked up a rod, cast for 10 minutes, caught a bass and sat back down. Baksay, an irrepressible talker, was wowed. After that, he had a hard time figuring out the best part of a day of coaching from one of the country’s top pros.
“I’m trying to think and it’s hard,” Baksay said. “He helped me to key in on certain parts of where I’m fishing so I don’t waste my time. And he helped me focus on my strengths so I don’t waste my time.”
While Baksay has four more years of eligibility in the junior program, his boat mate, Bowling, is headed to college this fall at the University of Southern Maryland. In her spare time, she plans to fish the CITGO Bassmaster Northern Opens as an amateur.
And what does she want to do for a living?
“Be a bass pro. I’m studying nursing so that I have something to fall back on.”
The Junior Bassmaster World Championship launches at 6 a.m. Monday from Blythe Landing. The weigh-in will be at Blythe Landing at noon.
BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning more than 20,000 tournaments worldwide through its Federation. The CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail, which includes the all-new Bassmaster Elite 50 series, is the oldest and most prestigious pro bass fishing tournament circuit and continues to set the standard for credibility, professionalism and sportsmanship as it has since 1968.
Sponsors of the Junior Bassmaster World Championship include CITGO Petroleum Corp., Purolator, Triton Boats, Mercury Marine, Berkley, Abu Garcia, Lowrance Electronics, Flowmaster Exhaust Systems, MotorGuide, Bass Pro Shops, and BankOne.
Local Sponsors include the Charlotte Regional Sports Commission, Visit Charlotte, the Auditorium-Coliseum-Convention Center Authority, the Rock Hill Sports and Tourism Council and Time Warner Cable.
For more information, call BASS Communications at (334) 551-2375 or visit www.bassmaster.com.