BY DAVE LINK
LENOIR CITY – Hunter Owens figured it might be a good day early Saturday morning (March 11) during the third stop of the Bass Pro Shops-Sevierville High School series on Fort Loudon/Tellico Lakes.
He had no idea how good it would be for he and partner Clayton Kelley, both sophomores on the Karns Beavers Bass Fishing Team.
“About my second or third cast,” Owens said, “I hooked one and he pulled off. I let it sink back to the bottom and I caught a keeper smallmouth.”
By about 10:30 a.m., Owens and Kelley already had a bag weighing almost 17 pounds.
They didn’t slow down.
As the 156 boats began weigh-ins at the Boat Ramp of Lake Tellico (Canal Ramp), word spread that Owens and Kelley had a huge bag of bass they’d bring when the final flight of boats arrived.
It was beyond everyone’s expectations.
Owens and Kelley’s bag consisted of the five-bass limit weighing 23.74 pounds – the biggest bag in the 10-year history of the Tennessee Bass Nation’s (TBN’s) Bass Pro Shops-Sevierville circuit.
“I’m pretty excited,” Kelley said. “It’s the first tournament I’ve ever won, the first high school tournament I’ve ever won. It’s just very exciting.”
They were still a bit stunned by their monster bag and all the attention immediately after weigh-ins.
Owens’ father Josh said it was sinking in later Saturday.
“Like I told them, this is a one-in-a-million best day of fishing they will ever have,” Josh said. “They are still on Cloud Nine.”
Josh Owens and Kelley’s dad Todd are their sons’ boat captains with Todd Kelley in the chair for Saturday’s record-breaking day.
Will Bacon and Hayden Barnett of the Roane County Bass Fishing Team were second with five bass weighing 18.85 pounds.
Bacon and Barnett are past winners in statewide bass fishing events, while Owens and Kelley are newbies to the champions’ podium.
And they haven’t been fishing together long, either.
“We met at (Karns High) and we just now started fishing with each other this year,” Owens said.
So far, so good.
“I enjoy it. He’s a funny guy,” Kelley said of Owens. “He’s good at fishing, too. He caught most of the fish today, so that’s good.”
Kelley, however, caught the two biggest bass – a 6.05-pounder and a 5.54-pounder – both on swim baits.
His biggest was caught in shallow water.
“It was only about 10 foot deep, maybe,” Kelley said. “It didn’t really hit very hard, but just the weight, I could feel how big it was.”’
They fished on Tellico Lake, about a 25-minute boat ride from the Canal Ramp.
It wasn’t a random spot they picked.
“(Owens) fished that spot last year (with Carson Paul) and he knew there were going to be big ones there,” Kelley said. “We went there today and caught ’em.”
Owens said the conditions made it difficult at first; they caught seven or eight smallmouth and culled the two largemouth.
“There was some wind going,” Owens said. “It was going against the current, which made it kind of rough, but we just sat in the current and caught some smallmouth.”
Owens and Kelley will compete in the April 15 Bass Pro-Sevierville event on Watts Bar, launching out of Rockwood. It’s the fourth and final stop of the BPS series before the May 20 championship on Douglas Lake.
They’ve got big goals after their big day on Tellico.
“Hopefully we can do good on Watts Bar and get into the nationals,” Kelley said.
AT THE CHICK
Chickamauga Lake is known for its big bass, and a couple were caught March 5 in the TBN’s Southeast circuit high school event.
Parker Batts and Brody Jones of Jefferson County posted a second-place finish with five bass weighing 17.56 pounds, including a 9.92-pounder.
The winning team was Wyatt Crow and Corbin Bornstein of Lipscomb Academy with five bass weighing 18.4 pounds; they had a 9.54-pounder.
Tyler Stallcup and Preston Jaynes of Loudon High were third (five bass, 17.32 pounds, 5.14-pounder), ahead of fourth-place Camdyn Cranfill and Owen Ray of Rhea County (five bass, 16.43 pounds).
In the junior division, Aiden Davis and J.T. Kirkpatrick of Lakeway Junior Bass won with five bass weighing 9.8 pounds, including a 2.15-pounder.
T.J. Murray and Jackson Ray of Rhea County were second (three bass, 7.57 pounds), ahead of third-place Sawyer O’Hara and Eli O’Hara of Alcoa Junior Bass Fishing (three bass, 7.38 pounds) and Jaxson Pierce and Tucker Larrance of Jefferson County Junior Bass (three bass, 6.65 pounds).
Kudos to two area teams earning bids to the Bassmaster National Championships this summer.
Alcoa Fishing Team’s Joe Vaulton and Walker LaRue qualified Feb. 25 during a Bassmaster National Open Series event on Lake Lay in Alabama; Pierce and Larrance of Jefferson County earned bids to the junior nationals, also Feb. 25 on Lake Lay.
Both teams finished eighth among more than 200 boats.
Vaulton and LaRue reached the 2022 Bassmaster Nationals and finished 15th on Lake Hartwell in South Carolina last August.
Sevier County’s Ty Trentham and Chase McCarter were fourth in the nationals among 314 boats, while Roane County’s Barnett and Bacon came in 29th.
Earlier last summer, LaRue and Vaulton finished sixth in the Major League Fishing (MLF) National High School Championships and were fourth in the World Finals on Pickwick Lake from June 23-25.