BY DAVE LINK
Hayden Barnett and Camdyn Cranfill didn’t need much time to find their groove as new bass-fishing co-anglers.
Not any time at all, really.
In their second tournament fishing together for the Roane County (Kingston) High School Fishing Team, Barnett and Cranfill won the Tennessee Bass Nation’s Southeast Division event last Saturday (Oct. 14) at Chickamauga Lake.
They were 23rd in their first tournament, Sept. 9 in a Tennessee Bass Nation State Open on Nickajack Lake.
“It’s definitely a game-changer,” Cranfill said. “We fish really well together. We both have different mindsets and it definitely helps going into a tournament to have two different ways of looking at it.”
Both anglers were successful with their previous co-anglers.
Barnett, a junior at Kingston, was looking for a new partner when Will Bacon decided to focus on golf for his senior year at Kingston.
Barnett doesn’t blame Bacon, whose golf career has taken off. Most recently, Bacon won the Class A state individual title last week, leading the Yellow Jackets to their third consecutive team championship.
“We’re still super good friends,” Barnett said. “We talk a lot and all that. He’s great at golf and that’s how he’s going to college, so why not focus on golf his senior year?”
Cranfill, meanwhile, opted to split with Owen Ray and the Rhea County Eagle Anglers after fishing together last season and during middle school, when they finished second in the 2022 Bassmaster Junior National Championship.
Barnett is psyched about fishing with Cranfill.
“I think we’re going to fish super together,” he said. “We already have. He’s a phenomenal fisherman, and we just get along so good.”
Ray is now fishing with Turner Tharpe for the Rhea County Eagle Anglers, and the duo finished fourth at Chickamauga.
TOP FINISHES, TOUGH DAY
It was tough fishing last Saturday on Chickamauga Lake.
Barnett and Cranfill won with the five-bass limit weighing 15.08 pounds with a big bass of 3.87 pounds (they caught two bass about the same size).
Alcoa’s Jackie Hatfield and Graham Willis were second with five bass weighing 13.41 pounds, including a 3.36-pounder.
Hunter Owens and Clayton Kelley of Karns were third (five bass, 12.94 pounds, 3.37-pounder), ahead of Ray and Tharpe of Rhea County (five bass, 11.09 pounds) and fifth-place Trevor Sanford and Presley Lannom of Mt. Juliet (five bass, 10.95 pounds, 2.68-pounder).
Only eight of the 136 boats in the high school division had the five-bass limit, and 66 boats didn’t get a keeper bass.
Derrick Turner and Logan Gibson of Sale Creek Junior Bass won the middle-school division with three bass weighing 7.57 pounds, including a 4.77-pounder. Will Collins and Kyler Jenkins of Soddy-Daisy Junior Bass were second with two bass weighing 5.91 pounds and a 3.95-pounder.
Cranfill, a sophomore who is home schooled, lives in Dayton, and Chickamauga is his home lake, but that didn’t help much last Saturday.
“That’s probably the toughest I’ve seen it, ever,” Cranfill said.
Why so tough?
“A bunch of boats fishing, just practicing for the tournament,” Cranfill said, “and a big cold front came through, so it went from like 70 and 80 degrees to like 50 degrees, and that shut ’em down quite a bit.”
HOW THEY WON
Like Cranfill, Barnett has fished Chickamauga plenty of times, both with Bacon and during pre-fishing before last Saturday.
Barnett was on fall break before the tournament, and he and Cranfill both practiced all week with their dads leading up to the event.
On the windy, partly cloudy day, Cranfill got a tough day started when he caught a nearly 4-pounder in the morning, their first keeper of the day.
“It looked small when it first blew up on it,” Cranfill said, “and I set the hook and it started pulling really hard. I knew once I hooked into it, it was a good one.”
All their keeper bass were largemouth caught on frog-type lures except for one caught on a buzzbait.
Despite having their limit at about 1 p.m., Cranfill and Barnett forged their way to a spot they figured had some big bass, and it wasn’t easy getting there.
“We got stuck a few times trying to get back to the place,” Cranfill said. “It was definitely shallow.”
Their boat was in about a foot of water when Barnett caught his biggest bass – around 3.89 pounds. They caught other keepers on the same shallow grass mat.
“We found that spot about three weeks before the tournament,” Cranfill said, “and I’d went there a few times and didn’t do any good. I pulled up there the week begore this tournament and they were there.”
And they were still there last Saturday.
“We pulled up to the right place at right time,” Barnett said. “We got our fifth keeper there and culled three or four times in that same mat, right before went into weigh-in.”
Barnett and Cranfill will fish the Tennessee Bass Nation State Open this weekend (Oct. 21) on Percey Priest Lake.
Their hot finish on Chickamauga might help.
“We definitely got the ball rolling on this one,” Cranfill said. “I think we gained the momentum we need going into the next tournaments coming up.