NICKAJACK LAKE, CHATTANOOGA - Jordan Bruce and Nick Wells have become accustomed to fighting off other anglers during the 2013 season, as the team took the Anglers of the Year award for Campbell County High School.
However, on Saturday, the team found themselves battling something tougher than other fishermen.
“The water was awful,” Bruce said. “It was choppy and windy. You couldn’t hardly cast, because it was always on the bank. We just had to run the trolling motor the whole time.”
Although the weather battled the crafty crew, they were still able to produce.
Bruce and Wells came to the weigh-ins at Shellmound Park in Jasper, Tenn., carrying a bag of fish that tallied 10 lbs, 8 oz in the Student Anglers Federation’s Tennessee High School State Tournament.
“It’s big,” Wells said of the double-digit weight. “We won the (Campbell County Anglers of the Year), and it was big to come down here and catch double digits against 70 boats.”
The duo finished in 20th place, less than 5 lbs behind the winners of the tournament, Saxton Long and Triston Crowder of Lawrence County High School.
According to Bruce, their success came early in the morning, as the boats left the Shellmound Park launch at 5:55 a.m., CST.
“There was a lot of fish close,” Bruce said. “We got four fish early, and then we caught another one up in the day to make five. Towards the end of the day, like 20 minutes before the end of the tournament, we caught one that culled our smallest fish. It was pretty good.”
However, the day wasn’t all fun and roses.
Facing the weather, which the team said they’d not experienced during practice, was just one of the challenges.
“It was tough,” said Anthony Dilbeck, the driver for Bruce and Wells. “Nick, he lost a big fish right off the bat. That hurt. They caught their limit by probably 10 (a.m.), and then he lost that big one. It just hurt them. We caught a bunch of fish all day. They caught 20-some fish. I’m proud of them.”
Although the pair was able to catch of the 20-fish mark, size limits were costly.
The tournament had a limit of 18 inches for smallmouth, 15 inches for largemouth and 12 inches for spotted bass.
For Bruce and Wells, some fractions really hurt.
“It was upsetting,” Wells said. “Most of them we couldn’t keep were 14 and 1/2 (inches) or 14 and 3/4. They had to be 15 inches. We couldn’t find our fifth fish until the end, and it was bad.”
The team came down earlier in the week, as they practiced on Nickajack Lake. Until the week before the tournament, the pair had never fished the waters.
However, the practice couldn’t prepare the team for the near foot-high swells in some places.
“We came down and got to fish a little bit, but the weather conditions were so much different from today,” Bruce said. “It was totally different. We still caught fish, but today, it was tough. We had to fish.”
At the end of the day, however, the team weight in a five-fish limit in front of nearly 150 spectators.
For the duo, it could have been the worst part of the day.
“We were nervous having to talk into the microphone and look at everybody taking pictures,” Wells said with a laugh. “It’s new to all of us. I’ve never done it.”
“It’s a really good experience,” Bruce continued. “It’s the first year we’ve been down here, and it’s the first time I’ve ever fished anything like this. It’s good.”
Being the first time for Campbell County High School in the state bass fishing tournament, it’s a chance for the team to prepare for next season.
Catching a double-digit weight in their first attempt can only improve for next season.
“It makes us awful confident,” Wells said.