By DAVE LINK
Jackie Hatfield and Graham Willis made a smart move when they were pre-fishing a tournament Oct. 29 at Dale Hollow Lake near the Tennessee-Kentucky border.
They found a spot loaded with bass. They hooked onto a couple. And then they left the spot alone.
The move paid off for the Alcoa fishing duo the next day when they won the Tennessee BASS Nation State Open, landing five keeper bass weighing 14.3 pounds.
Hatfield, a freshman, and Willis, a sophomore, were competing against 167 other boats.
And it all started when they were pre-fishing with Hatfield’s father, Chris, who serves as one of their boat captains, and they came upon a sunken brush pile near the bank.
“Dad ran over it with a crank bait and caught a 2-pounder,” Hatfield said, “then I flipped in it and broke off on a good one, and we just left it alone the rest of the time.”
The next morning, a cold, rainy Saturday, Willis and Hatfield took off for the State Open competition and didn’t hesitate where to go.
“We went right back to the brush pile,” Hatfield said. “Graham caught one on the first cast on the brush pile.”
HOW THEY WON
Willis landed their two biggest bass, and Hatfield caught the three smaller keepers. All were largemouth caught on crankbaits.
“We caught basically every single fish off of one brush pile,” Willis said. “It was like the only place we could catch fish off of, that one spot.”
Willis’ biggest bass weighed 3.54 pounds. He caught it on a square-bill crankbait over the brush pile during their first 30 minutes of fishing.
“I was on the front deck where he normally is,” Willis said. “(Hatfield) was doing something in the back, but I was up near the front near the trolling motor. I hooked into it, and I was like, ‘This is a good one,’ and he got the net. It kind of dove back under the trolling motor, and then he got it in the net probably 15 seconds later.”
Hatfield and Willis won by a substantial margin.
Braxton Copeland and Chase Johnson of Livingston Academy finished second with three bass weighing 9.94 pounds.
GETTING STARTED, MOVING FORWARD
Hatfield and Willis met through the Alcoa fishing team led by team captain J.J. LaRue.
Willis was looking for a fishing partner early last summer, and LaRue introduced him to Hatfield.
They’ve fished about six tournaments together, including this past weekend at South Holston Lake in Upper East Tennessee. They’ll probably fish about 25 tournaments during the school year.
“We really enjoy it,” Willis said. “It’s been a really good start to the year, a lot of fun.”
By winning the State Open, Willis and Hatfield qualified for the BASS Bassmaster High School national championship on Kentucky Lake this summer.
“I’m super excited to be able to go to the nationals and have a spot in it this quick in the year,” Hatfield said.
So is Willis.
“It’s really amazing how early we got that qualification,” Willis said. “It’s a big goal for us. It’s super nice, amazing.”
MYERS/OLIVET REACH NATIONALS
Alcoa freshman Landon Myers and sophomore Hunter Olivet made the most of a tough bite Oct. 23 at Chickamauga Lake, finishing third in the MFL U.S. Army National event.
They caught only two keepers – at least 15 inches – weighing 7.4 pounds, but still qualified for the nationals at Pickwick Lake next June.
“I’m really excited,” Myers said. “The Lord really blessed us with those two fish. It’s crazy for me to think about. It’s always been a dream to make nationals, and I was able to do it my freshman year.”
And they overcame some adverse conditions to do it.
“It was real tough for us,” Myers said. “It was pretty windy all day, and the morning, it was foggy till 10:15, I’d say, so we missed the whole morning bite because it was so foggy you could barely get down the lake. It was tough.”
Both of their keepers were largemouth.
Olivet’s weighed more than 4 pounds, and he caught it on a 6-inch swim bait.
“We’d tried everything,” Myers said, “and decided we’d try some trees where grass wasn’t surrounding the trees, to see if they were out of that grass, and we pulled up to this one tree and the first couple of casts, boom, it just bit it.”
Myers was nervous getting ready to net Olivet’s bass.
“It was weird, it wasn’t really fighting that much,” he said. “It was just kind of slumped, like those big fish get sometimes, and when it got up to the net and I saw the size of it, I thought, ‘I’d better not miss this net,’ so I was able to get it in the net, thankfully.”
Myers and Olivet were fishing together for the first time as a team. Myers’ usual partner is Jacob Teffeteller.
“I’ll probably keep fishing with (Teffeteller),” Myers said, “just because we’ve fished more tournaments together and that connections’ there, but me and Hunter are definitely going to fish Pickwick in June for the nationals.”
BIG START FOR ALCOA
Alcoa’s fishing team got off to a big start to the season Oct. 9 event at Cherokee Lake in the Bass Pro Shops High School trail.
Of the 262 teams, Alcoa had three finish in the top 20.
Joe Vaulton and Walker LaRue were fifth (7.09 pounds), while Jack Pressley and Jake Lovingood were eighth (5.73 pounds) and Myers and Teffeteller were 20th (2.99 pounds).
The Alcoa fishing team is a private club representing the school, so it’s not just Alcoa students on the team.
“I’m doing all I can to build the program,” J.J. LaRue said.
Last year’s team had 65 anglers; this year’s has 63.
“It’s crazy,” LaRue said. “There’s only 750 kids at Alcoa (High) and we had 190 show up for our first meeting (before the season).”