Team Louisiana’s 24 two-man teams headed to the 2022 Abu Garcia Bassmaster High School National Championship in August include two seniors-to-be at Central High School.
Matthew Rome, who celebrates his 17th birthday Aug. 10, and Connor Dawson, 17, are competing a second straight year for the high school national title in the tournament that starts Aug. 11 at Lake Hartwell near Anderson, South Carolina.
“It’s an honor to go two years in a row because not too many people get to go. It’s a pretty good feeling,” Rome said the first week of June.
Dawson said, “I’m excited. I’m ready for it. That’s all I’m thinking about right now. I’ve been looking at Lake Hartwell and trying to learn about it. It’ll be a different animal for us. I’ve learned it’s very clear, very deep with steep banks. It’s going to be a challenge. It’s going to be fun. We’re very excited and already got our place booked.”
A long way
Rome and Dawson have come a long way since their freshman season together in high school bassin’. Their friendship before high school led to teaming up for bass tournaments.
As freshmen, they qualified for the state tournament and helped CHS win a state title. The two all-around outdoorsmen stepped up their game as sophomores, starting with a 13.45-pound first-place finish in November 2020 in the Louisiana High School Bass Nation West Division Trail State Qualifier at Toledo Bend, their first visit to the lake.
They finished fifth in the LHSBN West Division Trail standings and qualified with 16 other teams for nationals at Tennessee’s Lake Chickamauga.
One month later, back home, the high school bass anglers showed their sense of community service. They shoveled sand into sandbags and delivered them to Louisiana residents impacted by Hurricane Ida in late August.
They were red-hot in the 2021-22 season with a ninth-place finish in October at Doiron’s Landing, Stephensville, then won in February with 14.45 pounds.
What gives Rome the most satisfaction winning or finishing high in an LHSBN tournament?
“I’d say it’s when we win at Doiron’s because a lot of people know that area, so it’s hard to win tournaments over there. This year’s win was the best one. They had 175 boats, some real good fishermen,” Rome said.
“We kind of figure it out pretty good. Once we have confidence in an area we just put our heads down and fish and end up doing pretty good.”
The bass tournament partners, both working as stockers this summer at Winn-Dixie in Central, fished a third straight state tournament on the Ouachita River in May.
Because they fish together a lot, it’s no surprise their favorite fishin’ hole this time of year is the Bayou Pigeon area on the east side of the Atchafalaya Basin. Specifically, they like to tap the bass population in Cross Bayou.
Dawson said he has fun there.
“Whenever it’s right it’s just fun and I can catch them the way I like to … which is punching. We both love to do that,” he said.
Dawson’s favorite setup includes a Strike King Rage Bug on 65-pound test PowerPro braided line spooled on a Shimano Citica seated on a 7-foot-3 Favorite EH fishing rod. He ties a 3/0 flippin’ hook to the braided line under a 1-ounce Tungsten weight.
They target hyacinths in 3-4 foot depths, he said.
“If you go there at the right time you can catch 50 fish easy. I’ve always had most of my success over there on crankbaits or any kind of soft plastics,” Rome said, noting his favorite crankbait is a khaki-colored Bandit 100 and top soft plastics are craw worms.
Randal Bordelon, Dawson’s stepfather, captains the team in his 2021 Z519 Ranger powered by a 225-h.p. Yamaha Sho.
Dawson said Bordelon got him into fishing, “anything freshwater,” then he got hooked on bass fishing.
Rome began bass fishing in the seventh grade and met Luke Miller, a member of the Denham Springs-based Junior Southwest Bassmasters.
“He was always better than me,” Rome said.
As they got into the high school ranks, Miller wanted a different partner.
“I didn’t have a partner. Connor said he didn’t have a partner,” Rome said, noting the two friends decided to pair up. “We started off in ninth grade and weren’t too good. These last few years we’ve gotten pretty good,” he said.
They hope to be “pretty good” again Aug. 11-13 at Lake Hartwell.
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