From start to finish Alex Heintze and Justin Watts of Baton Rouge, held the lead at the Bassmaster High School National Championship.
Saturday, the Livingston Parish Bassmasters team added a third consecutive 20-plus-pound catch and made the win official. After three days on Kentucky Lake the teenagers caught 66 pounds to win the Bassmaster High School Series’ most elite tournament. Their winning total included daily five-bass limits weighing 20-10, 23-14 and 22-2.
How they won is just as impressive as the margin of victory. During summertime the lake is revered for its trophy bass fishing on main-river channel ledges. Big bass school in deep water and are caught in abundance on crankbaits.
But he deep-diving lure never factored in the team’s strategy, nor did the lake’s signature ledges. Instead, Heintze and Watts relied on their strengths fishing shallow.
“We didn’t come here to fish the ledges, so we committed to fishing shallow,” said Heintze, 16, a junior at Denham Springs High School. “The lake set up to fish shallow anyway with the water so high.”
The team’s first stop during practice ended the search for bass. Flooded shoreline habitat, the presence of baitfish and inundated ditches attracted enough bass to sustain their strategy for three days.
“The high water was the difference,” said Watts, 15, a sophomore at Live Oak High School. “Without it the fish wouldn’t be there, and I doubt they will be tomorrow.”
He noted the water dropped overnight by 6 inches for the final day’s fishing. The predator bass hid in the brushpiles to ambush baitfish.
The team alternated between a tube jig and topwater frog. That choice was a black Spro Dean Rojas Signature Series Bronzeye Frog. A Strike King tube jig Texas rigged with a 1/4-ounce weight and 4/0 Trokar hook completed the lure arsenal.
“I never thought we’d come to Kentucky Lake and catch bass like that on a frog, but we did,” Heintze said.
A zig-zig action with the frog was a must and mimicked the motions of the baitfish. The anglers alternated between the two lures to maximize time in the strike zone. When success with the frog slowed, they switched to a flipping presentation with the tube jig.
On Kentucky Lake the team struck early, and their bites came quickly. All of the 20-pound limits were caught by 9 a.m. The team fished the same 150-yard stretch of shoreline.
“We thought of trying other places, but we didn’t know if other contestants might be on the spots,” Watts said. “It didn’t seem like the sportsmanlike thing to do, so we stayed in the same area.”
Louisiana teams claimed the Top 2 spots in the tournament. Braden Blanchard and Cade Fortenberry, fishing for St. Amant High School in St. Amant took second place with 51-15.
Bethel University, an event host, offered four-year scholarships valued at $20,000 each to Heintze and Watts. They are also invited to compete in the Bassmaster High School Classic next March in Tulsa that coincides with the 2016 Bassmaster Classic.