BY DAVE LINK
Grace Christian Academy junior Olivia Mauldin got the fishing bug when she was a young girl, going often in summers with her dad Mark, brother Garrett, and his friend Efrem.
She’s never shaken the bug.
“When I was little,” Olivia recalls, “I’d always tell my dad, ‘What if I was like you and became a professional fisherman?’ Honestly, I think it probably would be really cool to fish for a living like my dad did.”
She might be on her way.
Mauldin made her high school angling debut Nov. 12 at Cherokee Lake, and fishing solo with her dad serving as boat captain, won a Bass Pro Shops-Sevierville event on the Tennessee Bass Nation high school series.
It was a scary good day for her.
“I’m really excited,” she said. “I’m also preparing myself to be a little disappointed if I don’t do good in my next one. Because my first high school tournament ever, I won it, so I kind of set myself up for expectations.”
She learned fishing from a pro. Literally.
Mark Mauldin fished professionally full-time in area and regional tournaments for 15 years until his children were born. (Garrett is three years older than Olivia).
Once his tournament fishing slowed, Mauldin continued fishing with his children, and Olivia soon showed a passion for competitive fishing.
“We just fish a lot,” Mark said. “My son loves to fish. He doesn’t care much about fishing tournaments, but Olivia likes it. We’ve fished several tournaments.”
Garrett played baseball at Central, and Olivia attended Gibbs before this fall and was a softball pitcher. She missed last season with a torn labrum in her hip, pitched for the Gibbs JV last spring, and plans to join the Grace Christian team once cleared by TSSAA transfer rules.
In the meantime, she’s fishing.
Olivia didn’t fish for the Gibbs team, but that changed this fall.
“When she got to Grace,” Mark said, “everybody was very welcoming and encouraged her to join the fishing team. That’s basically how it started.”
Their big day on Cherokee Lake started with a calm, cool morning, before a front blew cold winds, clouds, and rain in the afternoon.
Olivia caught three keepers in the morning on topwater lures. Once the weather changed, she caught three more on swim baits – including a 3.27-pound largemouth, her biggest of the day.
Her sixth keeper was a 2.74-pound smallmouth, which allowed her to cull another largemouth, increasing her final weight by about a pound.
“That probably made the difference,” Mark said.
Yep, probably did.
Olivia’s five bass (three largemouth, two smallmouth) weighed 13.15 pounds – which left her stunned and excited.
“I was the first person to reach the limit because I was in the first flight,” she said. “When I saw the weight, and they said, ‘She’s got 13.15,’ I started smiling super big. Everybody was clapping and cheering for me. That was all I could have asked for. I looked at my dad and said, ‘I don’t care if I win this or not, that just made my year.’ ”
Then a long wait began. It took about 2 more hours for all 270 boats to go through weigh-ins before Mauldin was declared the winner.
“I was shaking,” Olivia said, “not because it was cold, but shaking because I was so nervous. I’m not kidding. I sat where I could see the scales and I watched everyone walk up with their bag and I’d turn around and look at my dad. I was nervous, to say the least.”
Hayden Barnett and Will Bacon of Roane County High Bass Fishing were second in the high-school division with five bass weighing 12.43 pounds, followed by James Sumrell and Brody Harp of the Hixson Bass Anglers (five bass, 11.85 pounds), and Alex Douglas and Will Douglas of Cumberland Gap (five bass, 11.40 pounds).
LARRANCE-PIERCE WIN JUNIORS
Win or lose, Jaxson Pierce and Tucker Larrance of Maury Middle School in Dandridge have a good time fishing.
And they had a great day Nov. 12 on Cherokee Lake.
Fishing for the Jefferson County Patriot Anglers, Pierce and Larrance finished second overall behind Mauldin and winning the juniors division with five bass weighing 12.78 pounds.
“It was fun. We enjoyed it.” Larrance said. “We always love to catch fish, and we always have fun even if we don’t. We act around and have fun while we’re at it.”
Harrison Hobbs and Cade Speligene of Franklin Fishing were second (three bass, 8.86 pounds) and Jaxen White and Kale Trobaugh of Clay County Anglers were third (four bass, 8.25 pounds).
Pierce and Larrance’s winning bag consisted of two smallmouth and three largemouth, including their big bass of the day, a 3.38-pound smallmouth caught by Pierce in the morning.
It was a big change after the anglers spent two days earlier in the week practicing at Cherokee without much luck.
“I guess what happened was after that front came through Friday, I guess it triggered these fish to start biting,” said Pierce, whose stepfather, Shane, served as boat captain. “I didn’t expect that first-place finish. When we got in there and I heard somebody say, ‘Oh, my goodness, that’s a big bag,’ I can’t explain how happy I was when I heard that.”
Pierce caught the big bass – their first keeper — on a ned rig on a spot they’d fished in practice.
“We found the rock. We saw fish on it,” Pierce said. “I threw it out there and let it sink to the bottom, I think 15 to 20 feet. I let it sit there and I felt a hit.
“I set the hook and it started fighting real good, and I was like, ‘Oh, it’s a good one.’ I was getting real excited because we didn’t do that good in practice. I got it up to the boat and it started to dive. Once Tucker got it in the net, it was so exciting, getting that thing in for our first keeper.”
Pierce and Larrance became friends in elementary school and started fishing together competitively in the third grade.
They want to continue fishing into high school when both attend Jefferson County.
“I’m pretty excited about the rest of the season,” Pierce said. “I’m super excited. I want to fish for Jeff County until I go to college. Our sponsors are amazing and so are our captains.”
Larrance feels the same way.
“I’m excited to get up there with the big boys,” he said, “and start fishing against them.”