BY DAVE LINK
Hayden Barnett of the Roane County High Bass Fishing Team had to make other plans when his co-angler, Will Bacon, was gone Oct. 8 for the Tennessee BASS Nation’s Bass Pro Shops-Sevierville event on Norris Lake.
Barnett fished solo with his dad, Kelly, as boat captain.
And it turned out to be a great day while the two listened to the broadcast of Tennessee’s 40-13 victory over LSU.
Barnett finished with a five-bass limit weighing 8.63 pounds — and was stunned when his name was atop the leaderboard at the end of weigh-ins.
“It just blindsided me,” said Barnett, a sophomore at Kingston High. “I knew I wouldn’t do terrible. I thought I’d be in the top 10 with eight pounds, but I didn’t think I’d win it.”
Bacon, a junior, spent fall break with his family in Cancun. He missed a tough day of fishing on Norris.
“I’m proud of him,” Bacon said. “He did good. For me to be out of town and him to go win that one on Norris, that’s good.”
Barnett and Bacon aren’t newcomers to the bass fishing circuit. They won a BASS Pro Shops event last April on Watts Bar, a title they also won in 2021 and ’20 (while competing in the junior division).
They knew last summer Bacon would be gone for the Bass Pro event on Norris – and an Oct. 15 tournament on Percy Priest Lake – so Barnett planned to fish on his own.
It wasn’t a first for him.
“I fished another one on Norris two years ago without him that I should have done really well in,” Barnett said. “I came in 12th.”
Not this time.
HOW HE WON
Barnett hasn’t fished Norris Lake near as much as Watts Bar, Loudon, or Chickamauga.
“I’ve fished it a half-dozen to a dozen times,” he said.
It started as a cold morning, and temperatures warmed with the sun’s rising. Barnett sat back for a ride with his dad driving when they left the dock.
“Our first thing,” Hayden said, “we made easily a 45-minute run just to our first spot. We came out of Big Creek and went up the Clinch, probably 15 miles above 33 Bridge.”
He began fishing a jig under docks and brush and caught three non-keepers early in the morning before getting his first keeper in some brush in late morning.
They moved to another cove and were listening to the Tennessee-LSU broadcast (a noon ET kickoff) when the bite started to pick up.
“As they were interviewing (UT coach Josh) Heupel,” Barnett said, “I flipped up under a floating pontoon boat they were using as a dock and caught a keeper, then went around the point and caught two more keepers like that. Then we ran into another cove, fishing shallow docks, and I caught my fifth keeper on my second to last dock, then we ran back.”
All his keepers were largemouth, and his biggest weighed about 2.5 pounds.
Barnett said the biggest disadvantage of fishing solo is slicing your chances in half. The boat captain is allowed to net bass when an angler fishes alone.
“You’re kind of at a disadvantage in that everybody else has two lines in the water,” Barnett said, “and they’re able to get more strikes than you are by yourself because you’ve only got one line in.”
It wasn’t easy getting strikes that day. Period.
Barnett was the only boat in the high school division to have the five-bass limit, and only three boats had four keepers.
Parker Batts and Brody Jones of the Jefferson County Patriot Anglers were second with four bass weighing 8.55 pounds.
Jackie Hatfield and Graham Willis of the Alcoa Fishing Team were third (four bass, 7.88 pounds), followed by Alex Douglas and Will Douglas of Cumberland Gap Fishing in fourth (four bass, 7.30 pounds) and Carson Holbert and Owen Stamm of Eagleton College and Career Academy Fishing in fifth (three bass, 7.05 pounds).
In the junior division, Parker DeFoe and John-David Carroll of the Berean Junior Eagles won with four bass weighing 7.90 pounds. Aiden Willett and Johnathan Harris of West Greene were second (five bass, 7.25 pounds) and Boone Harris and Kaden Felkner of Halls Middle were third (one bass, 2.63 pounds).
TOUGH DAY AT PERCY PRIEST
Barnett fished solo again Oct. 15 in the second stop of the Tennessee BASS Nation North-Central Division tour on Percy Priest Lake in Nashville while Bacon was on his way back from Cancun.
“It was extremely tough,” Barnett said. “There was probably half the field that zeroed.”
Barnett finished 17th with three bass weighing 7.56 pounds – including a 3.36 pounder.
He caught the big largemouth on a jig.
“Me and dad both thought it was a 4-plus pound smallmouth, how dark it was,” Barnett said. “It looked like it came right out of Florida.”
Jeffrey Stewart and J.W. Holloway of Monterey won with five bass weighing 14.2 pounds, edging out Alex Arnold and Brant Buchanan of Eagleville with five bass weighing 14.07 pounds, including a 4.86 pounder.
River Rushlow and Ben Chance of Franklin were third (five bass, 13.39) pounds, followed by Batts and Jones of Jefferson County in fifth (four bass, 11.72 pounds).
Of the 188 boats in the high school division, 82 didn’t catch a keeper bass, and most other boats had just one or two keepers.
Bentley Keeter and Braydon Scott of Pickett County won the juniors division with three bass weighing 8.80 pounds.
Barnett said the size of the lake and the pressure it takes hampered the fishing.
“I think because it’s such a small lake,” he said, “and you put 264 boats on a small lake like that, and it fishes small and tough.”