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2013 High School Bass Fishing Championship

Last Saturday was the 2013 Nebraska High School Bass Fishing Championship.  I know there has been a lot of talk about this on the internet and elsewhere already; might as well add my perspective.

This was the third year for a formal state high school bass fishing championship.  Tournament water this year was Harlan County Reservoir.  Yes, I said Harlan County Reservoir.  No, Harlan is not known as a hot bass water, but in recent years water level fluctuations have produced thousands of acres of flooded trees and other terrestrial vegetation at Harlan and that is bass habitat!  I am not going to tell you that Harlan will always be a great fishery for largemouth bass, but it is right now and that is why it was chosen for this year’s high school championship.  However, with the water being down 12.5 feet from full pool, and dropping, I was a little concerned about how well the anglers would do.  As you will see as I ramble on, I need not have worried.

Our high school bass fishing championship has grown a little bit each year.  This year we had 21 teams participating.  There were teams from Lincoln County/North Platte, Gretna, Kearney, Mead/Wahoo Neumann, Southern Valley, Fremont Bergan, Blair, Lincoln East, Weeping Water, Millard North, Grand Island, Beatrice, and Norris (if I missed anyone, or am incorrect about any of that, please correct me!).  Each team of two anglers was paired with a coach/boat driver.  The coaches operated the boat and could offer all kinds of advice and instruction, but could not fish.

It was an early, gloomy launch.

We literally had a minnow bucket full of coffee for the early morning crew.

Motoring out of Gremlin Cove. . .

Got the lucky fishing dog. . .

Some fan support . . .

With the low water and 5 mph limit in the boat channel, there was not much of a “blast off” this year either.

Now, they were hard up for an emcee for the weigh-in this year.  Guess who got to do that?  That means I was not able to just wander around and take pictures like I have in the past.  So, I am stealing pictures from several other folks from a variety of places.

One of the neat things about a fishing tournament is there are a bunch of anglers fishing the same water at the same time under the same conditions.  Not everyone does the same thing and in a day of tournament fishing usually at least one competitor figures out how to catch some fish.  A lot of the high school anglers spent some time fishing the dam.

Right now the young-of-the-year (YOY) gizzard shad are EVERYWHERE on Harlan and every predator fish in the reservoir is feeding on them.  Those YOY shad are mostly about 2 inches long now and a variety of baits are good imitations of those baitfish.  I know crankbaits and rattle baits caught fish on the rocky habitats like the dam, but several of the high schoolers said they caught fish on buzzbaits in the flooded timber.  A whacky-rigged Senko was another bait that caught fish that was mentioned by one angler.

While the anglers fished, we got ready for weigh-in.

Trophy table. . .

OK, yes, the year is wrong on the red, big fish trophy.  How embarrassing!  There were a ton of little details to get ready for the tournament and something got mixed up.  Anywho, a trip to the trophy shop can fix that easily.

Weigh-in was at 1:00 p.m.  I am not going to show pictures of all the teams weighing-in.  Here are some highlights.

I believe this is the 3rd place team, Jacob Zimbelman and Drew Bailey of the Lincoln County Bass Bosses.

Second place team, Quentin Hadan and Ian Coffey of the Southern Valley Eagles.

I have to tell you more about Quentin and Ian.  If you want to read more about their story, you can see it here, http://www.nefga.org/ .  Both guys were relatively new to the tournament bass fishing game, but I would say they did great!  I also happen to know that Ian was nursing a broken collar bone!  You can see him in a sling while they were doing some pre-fishing.

Ian fished hard for 6 hours during the tournament in spite of the injury.  At the weigh-in I asked him how he was feeling, and he said “Alright now!”  Catching fish, and almost winning the state high school championship makes it all good!

Payne Ahrens and Eric Soe from Gretna won the tournament.  Eric also had the biggest bass, a 5.5-pounder.

Here is the final leader board. . . .

You can see it was tight!  Only 0.1 pounds separated first from second place.  That one big fish that Ahrens and Soe weighed was no doubt the difference.  I heard a couple, three teams talk about fish they had lost; fish that would have changed their standing.  Every tournament angler I know has stories like that–“. . . the agony of defeat.”

I knew we would see some big bass come to the scales at Harlan and the two biggest fish were both 5 pounds or better.  I mentioned earlier that I wondered how many fish would be caught with the dropping water levels, but you can see that 14 of the 21 teams weighed fish.  I thought that was very good.  There were two teams that had a tournament limit of 5 fish and 3 teams brought 4 fish to the scales.  A winning weight of 15 pounds works out to an average of 3 pounds per fish, and that ain’t shabby!  If you look at it from a pointy-headed fisheries biologist point of view, the high school anglers averaged 0.41 pounds of bass per angler-hour of fishing and that is not bad either!

Ahrens and Soe fished the championship last year and finished third at Summit ( http://magazine.outdoornebraska.gov/2012/08/2012-high-school-bass-fishing-championship/ ).  There were a number of other anglers who have fished the high school championship in past years.  In fact Adam Diehl and Drew Bailey were the champions in 2011 and they both have fished each of the last three years; this year with different partners.  Last year’s champs, Matthew Neiburg and Zach Madsen also fished this year.

No, not everyone caught bass.  In fact, past champs Diehl, Neiburg and Madsen zeroed on Saturday.  I know those guys can fish, but it happens.  That’s fishing.  Even KVD cannot win every tournament.  However, I also know that some of the anglers who may not of weighed bass did not necessarily get skunked!  There was a 40-some inch pike caught and that was a very nice fish!

All of the fish were released alive, in great condition, right after the weigh-in.  The cool, cloudy weather was good for the fish.  Interestingly, there was one bass weighed-in that appeared to be blind in both eyes.  It may have been blind, but it still found a way to strike an artificial bait and get caught–a great demonstration of how resilient those wild creatures are and a great demonstration of the importance of the lateral line to those fish ( http://magazine.outdoornebraska.gov/2011/04/feel-now/ ).  The blind bass was not swimming far under the surface as it swam away, and I would not guarantee that fish will live long as they all live in a fish-eat-fish world and a blind bass will be an easy meal for a pike or flathead, but we gave it a chance.

Here is the news release on the championship.

Gretna Anglers Win High School Fishing Tournament

LINCOLN, Neb. – Eric Soe and Payne Ahrens of Gretna won the 2013 Nebraska State High School Fishing Tournament on July 27 at Harlan County Reservoir.

The Gretna Dragon team, with coach/boat driver Cory Roll, weighed in a five-fish limit totaling 15 pounds. Soe also caught the tournament’s biggest largemouth bass at 5 pounds, 8 ounces.

Soe and Ahrens advance to the regional tournament Oct. 5 at Lake Texoma, on the Oklahoma-Texas border. The regional champion advances to nationals next spring. The regional champion advances to nationals next spring.

The Southern Valley Eagles team of Ian Coffey, Quentin Hadan, and coach Jim Williams finished second with four bass for a total of 14 pounds, 14 ounces.   The Lincoln County Bass Bosses team of Drew Bailey, Jacob Zimbelman and coach Doug Zimbelman finished third with four bass totaling 14 pounds, 2 ounces.

Fourteen of the 21 competing teams brought 35 largemouth bass to the weigh-in station.

The state tournament is a cooperative program between the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and The Bass Federation – Student Angler Federation (TBF-SAF). The High School Fishing program includes a state tournament for every state in the continental United States, as well as Ontario, Canada. Two-person teams from grades 9 through 12 compete and are paired with a coach who provides a boat for competition.

And here is some additional TV coverage of the event, http://www.nebraska.tv/category/222068/video-landing-page?autoStart=true&topVideoCatNo=default&clipId=9138446 .

Not to put any pressure on this years champions, but I reminded them that our state champs the past two years have gone on to win the regional championship!  I am sure Ahrens and Soe will represent well again this year as they head down to Texoma for the regional championship this fall.  As I finished emceeing I told them to go down there and show them southern boys how to fish!

We hope high school bass fishing continues to expand in Nebraska.  Lincoln County/North Platte sent four teams to this year’s championship and Southern Valley also sent four.

We had a lot of schools and communities represented, but we could use more!  If you are interested in getting a club/program started at a Nebraska high school, there are links and contact information here, http://magazine.outdoornebraska.gov/2012/06/nebraska-high-school-fishing/ .  Yes, the gals can fish too!

Thank you James, Julie, “iRockbass”, and others for the pictures.  Congratulations to all the high school anglers, you all did good!

About daryl bauer

Daryl is a lifelong resident of Nebraska (except for a couple of years spent going to graduate school in South Dakota). He has been employed as a fisheries biologist for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission for 25 years, and his current tour of duty is as the fisheries outreach program manager. Daryl loves to share his educational knowledge and is an avid multi-species angler. He holds more than 120 Nebraska Master Angler Awards for 14 different species and holds more than 30 In-Fisherman Master Angler Awards for eight different species. He loves to talk fishing and answer questions about fishing in Nebraska, be sure to check out his blog at outdoornebraska.org.

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