By DAVE LINK
Carson Holbert feels like a lucky angler these days.
The current sophomore at Eagleton College and Career Academy in Maryville was looking for a fishing partner last spring.
At the time, ECCA didn’t have a fishing team, and Holbert was fishing for the William Blount Fishing Team.
Holbert went through one co-angler after another as a freshman at ECCA.
“I didn’t have a main partner,” Holbert said. “Most of them were doing other things, not just fishing.”
Holbert and Morristown West’s Owen Stamm were in the same boat. Sort of.
Stamm, a current senior and one of the area’s top anglers, was fishing by himself – without a partner — for the Hamblen County Anglers, which combines students from Morristown East and West High Schools.
Holbert and Stamm knew each other from the bass fishing circuit, and they came up with an idea – become a team.
“The biggest thing was we started talking,” Stamm said, “and we both wanted to travel around and fish a lot more tournaments, but you can’t really do it by yourself. We both started talking and we wanted to do the same thing, so it just kind of worked out.”
They started fishing together last spring, had several top-five finishes in tournaments, and continued their successful run this year.
After a top-10 finish in the Sept. 10 season opening Tennessee Bass Nation State Open on Watts Bar, Stamm and Holbert won the Southeast Tennessee Bass Nation’s second event Sept. 24 on Nickajack Lake outside of Chattanooga.
Holbert thinks he got a ringer of a partner.
“He’s great at fishing, man,” Holbert said of Stamm. “He knows his stuff. He’s also taught me a lot of stuff. It’s awesome I get the opportunity to fish with him. I’m sure he’ll be up there one day (in bass fishing), you know it.”
A ONE-BOAT START
ECCA didn’t have a bass fishing team until this school year, and like Holbert in finding a co-angler, the small school lucked out in finding a coach.
Hollie Reagan, who fished for Bryan College when it won two national championships in bass fishing, was a substitute teacher at ECCA last year and got hired as a seventh-grade science teacher for this school year.
“I asked if they had a fishing team,” said Reagan, who fished for Seymour High’s first bass fishing team as a senior in 2014, “and they said no. I told them I’d like to start one.”
Reagan had a big turnout – about 50 students — for the first team meeting, but most hadn’t fished and or had access to tackle or boats.
However, Reagan already had Holbert and Stamm signed up for the ECCA Fishing Team.
“When I decided to do this, I knew I had one good team,” she said.
It is her only team right now.
“Our (school) dynamics,” Reagan said, “a lot of them don’t have the means to compete in the sport. It is not a cheap sport.”
Which is a big reason Holbert and Stamm decided to become partners. Their fathers, Jason Holbert and Jason Stamm, serve as co-boat captains for their sons.
“Our styles of fishing are a little bit different,” Stamm said of he and Holbert, “but we fish good together in these tournaments and we’ve done well so far together, I think.”
WINNING AT NICKAJACK
Stamm had never fished Nickajack before the event, but Holbert had fished it without much luck.
“I’ve fished it before, but we didn’t really know the lake,” Holbert said. “I think the other times I fished on that lake, I really learned my lesson. We didn’t really fish it right, but this time we switched up and did something different, and we fished our strengths, and I think that’s why we won it.”
They formulated a game plan the night before the event, and it involved a long trip in the boat with Jason Holbert serving as captain.
“We had sun and not a lot of wind,” Stamm said. “Wind wasn’t a factor. Current was the biggest factor for us. We made about a 45-minute boat run to downtown Chattanooga and were fishing up there in the current in any kind of structure where there was a current break, whether it be a barge tie or any kind of wood or concrete, anything that would break the current. We were fishing on the downstream end of it mostly, just flipping a jig was the biggest deal, a jig and a drop shot.
“I caught all my fish on the jig, fishing about 5 to 8 foot of water. The current was the biggest deal for us. You didn’t want to be right in the middle of the strong current, but you wanted to be around the current, kind of on the back side of it where the fish were setting up at. I think we caught 30 to 40 fish and culled throughout the day.”
Holbert said his day was much different than his previous events on Nickajack, this time “fishing current all day.”
“We fished our strengths and we were really confident doing it,” he said. “We did a lot of studying going up to that tournament. We did more studying than we’ve ever done, and I think that’s what fueled our tournament.”
They won with a five-bass limit weighing 16.27 pounds, including a 5.8-pound largemouth caught by Stamm.
Stamm had four of the five bass they culled. Their bag consisted of one smallmouth, two spotted bass, and two largemouth.
“We had the trifecta in the bag,” Stamm said.
Holbert caught a 3.11-pound smallmouth on a drop-shot rig, and Stamm caught the big largemouth on a jig.
When Holbert netted it, the big bass was a game-changer.
“We had two fish at the time, both spotted bass,” Stamm said. “I just flipped that jig behind a bridge pillar in about 4 foot of water. It hit it on the fall and it came up and shook its head and I said, ‘Get the net, this is a pretty good fish.’ I thought it was a little bigger when I caught it. Then right after that we filled out our limit and started culling. That was the kicker fish we needed. Anytime you catch a big one like that, it goes a long way.”
It certainly did.
Brent Boehman and Kylan Mantooth of Coffee County were second with five bass weighing 15.16 pounds, including a 7.28-pounder.
Grant Thomas and Riley Peppers of Franklin County were third with five bass (12.41 pounds), followed by Owen Ray and Camden Cranfill of Rhea County in fourth place with five bass (12.23 pounds).
In the middle school division, Joey Newman and Brack Robertson of Meigs County Junior Bass won with 7.45 pounds – keeping one bass weighing 7.45 pounds.
Hudson Clark and Jackson Leath of Sumner County Junior Bass were second (five bass, 6.94 pounds), followed by Carson Stevens and Wesley Osuna of Franklin County Junior Bass (five bass, 6.04 pounds).
Holbert and Stamm are atop the Southeast and Central high school standings after two events.
“That’s pretty awesome,” Holbert said, “a great way to get our name out there and stuff like that.”
The ECCA anglers will stay busy in tournaments the next several weeks.
They’re at Norris Lake this Saturday (Oct. 8), go to Percy Priest Lake near Nashville next weekend, then to Pickwick Lake in Alabama the next weekend.
After a weekend off, they’ll be on Stamm’s home lake, Cherokee, for a Bass Pro tournament.
“I’m really hoping to do well in that one,” Stamm said. “I live on Cherokee and I fish it about three days a week.”
Holbert will enjoy his time fishing with Stamm while it lasts.
“I wish I could fish with him a few more years,” Holbert said, “but he’s a senior this year.”