BY DAVE LINK
Will Bacon and Hayden Barnett got a little lucky March 18 in the Tennessee Bass Nation’s (TBN)-Southeast’s fourth and final stop on Watts Bar Lake.
Not that they need any luck.
The two anglers for the Roane County High School Fishing Team are always among the favorites to win at Watts Bar, their home lake.
By late morning, however, Bacon and Barnett were still looking for their first big bass – and Bacon got it about noon when he threw a square-bill crankbait across a point.
“I knew it was a good one,” Bacon said. “I told Hayden it was a good fish, and he grabbed the net and netted it for me.”
Barnett netted the 4.18-pound largemouth – their fifth keeper, culling a spotted bass – and gave them a 14.06-pound bag and the victory.
Getting the big largemouth to bite wasn’t the lucky part.
“It was barely hooked,” Bacon said. “We just played it at the boat for a while, fought it out, and he netted it for me. It just had the back hook in its mouth.”
It weighed just enough for the win.
Rhea County’s Turner Tharpe and Blake James were second with five bass weighing 13.44 pounds, including a 4.22-pounder.
Chase McCarter and Ty Trentham of Sevier County were third (five bass, 11.14 pounds), ahead of fourth-place Jacob Berryhill and Landon Davis of Cherokee High (three bass, 7.08 pounds) and fifth-place Jackie Hatfield and Graham Willis of Alcoa (four bass, 6.38 pounds).
Jackson Barger and Jayden Jarnigan of Sevier County had a 6.09-pound bass, but it was their only keeper. They finished eighth.
Barnett and Bacon were one of the earliest boats to weigh-in – ninth among the 103 in the high school division.
“I didn’t think 14 (pounds) would win it,” said Bacon, a junior at Roane County High (Kingston).
It was Bacon and Barnett’s fourth victory in their last five tournaments on Watts Bar, but they finished 15th in their previous one there last fall.
Barnett, a sophomore at Roane County, wasn’t surprised by the fall finish. He said the fishing on Watts Bar was hit-or-miss before that tournament and the same before last weekend.
“Everybody expected us to win this fall, and I told them we wouldn’t win it,” Barnett said. “I had caught two keepers in two weeks (last fall). But this spring, we were on spring break last week, and I hit 16 points and had 16 bites, then me and dad (Kelly Barnett) went Thursday and kind of ran some of that same (water) and we had three short fish.”
Barnett and Bacon were coming off a second-place finish March 11 in the TBN’s Bass Pro Shops-Sevierville stop on Tellico/Fort Loudon Lakes.
They had the lead late during weigh-ins – five bass, 18.85 pounds – before Hunter Owens and Clayton Kelley of the Karns Beavers Bass Club brought in a bag weighing 23.74-pounds – a record for the TBN’s Bass Pro Shops-Sevierville Series.
Nobody surpassed Barnett and Bacon on Watts Bar.
“We were pretty confident going into it but it’s been fishing pretty tough lately,” Bacon said. “We just ended up catching five decent keepers and ended up pulling out the win somehow.”
Bacon and Barnett are sixth in the TBN’s Southeast points race with 574 points going into series’ championship in May on Fort Loudon.
Berryhill and Davis of Cherokee are tied atop the Southeast points race (584) with Parker Batts and Brody Jones of Jefferson County. Carson Holbert and Owen Stamm of Eagleton College and Career Academy are third (581), with McCarter and Trentham fourth (578) and James Sumrell and Brody Harp of Hixson fifth (575).
However, Barnett and Bacon lead the Bass Pro-Sevierville points race by more than 8 pounds and are almost a lock to qualify for the national championships from that series.
O’HARAS WIN JUNIORS
Sawyer and Eli O’Hara, cousins and members of the Alcoa Junior Fishing Team, won the juniors division on Watts Bar with four bass weighing 8.14 pounds. They had a 2.2-pounder.
Sawyer is an eighth grader at Maryville Junior High and Eli is a sixth grader at Coulter Grove Intermediate.
They got off to a fast start on Watts Bar.
“As soon as we pulled up to a spot, we caught our first keeper, then we caught a bunch of short ones,” Sawyer said. “We caught about 12 short ones. Throughout the day, it got tougher, but we continued to catch some fish.”
All five they kept were largemouth.
“They were all about the same size,” Sawyer said. “We just picked one out of the bag to weigh it.”
The O’Hara cousins aren’t newcomers to winning titles – or to angling together.
“I’d say we’ve won four or five tournaments,” Sawyer said. “We’ve been fishing together since we were like born, basically, but tournament-wise, probably two or three years.”
T.J. Murray and Jackson Ray of Rhea County Junior Bass were second (three bass, 6.25 pounds, 2.42-pounder), with Steele Lee and Trux Denny of Loudon Junior Bass third (one bass, 5.18-pounder) and Jackson Turpin and Eli Byrum of Roane County Junior Bass in fourth (one bass, 3.84 pounds).
Alcoa’s three juniors teams won the school title: O’Hara and O’Hara, Cas Potter and Scott Reagan, and Noah Tindell (solo).
Lee and Denny lead the Southeast juniors points race (593), ahead of Murray and Ray (585), O’Hara and O’Hara (582), Jaxson Pierce and Tucker Larrance of Jefferson County Junior Bass in fourth (575) and Noah Mayton and Danny Peters of Rhea County Junior Bass in fifth (568).