BY DAVE LINK
Joe Vaulton and Walker LaRue of the Alcoa Fishing Team are off to a fast start to the 2023-24 season, thanks to an Oct. 28 win on Fort Loudon Lake.
That comes as no surprise.
Vaulton and LaRue won Tennessee’s Co-Anglers of the Year by the Tennessee Bass Nation last season, and they know Fort Loudon all too well.
It’s the home lake for LaRue, a junior at Alcoa, while Vaulton – a senior – calls Douglas his home lake, and Loudon his second-most fished lake.
They were one of the few teams figuring out the tough bite on a warm and partly cloudy Saturday for the first stop of the TBN’s Bass Pro Shops-Sevierville trail.
“We didn’t have that many keeper bites all day,” LaRue said, “maybe like six or seven, but some of them were the right ones.”
They won with the five-bass limit weighing 16.13 pounds, more than five pounds ahead of second-place Landon Myers and Bryson Bailey, also of Alcoa Fishing.
Only five of the 215 teams (high school and middle school) had the five-bass limit, and 150 teams finished without a keeper bass.
Talk about tough fishing.
“Loudon’s tough most of the time anyway, but it’s a rough time of year,” Vaulton said. “This time of the year, honestly, it’s just rough everywhere you go, unless you go up North.”
And they’re not going there.
Vaulton will sign a scholarship to fish in college, probably later this month, while LaRue will find a new co-angler at Alcoa in 2024-25 before going off to college.
“We really want to try and fish in college together,” LaRue said, “so hopefully a college will give us the opportunity.”
Both have high hopes for the 2023-24 season at Alcoa.
“We’re hoping we can win the points again,” Vaulton said. “It would be huge. I don’t know how many people have won the Tennessee state points back-to-back.
“If we can win the state points back-to-back and then win the Bass Pro points, that would be huge.”
They lead an Alcoa team that takes its fishing seriously.
Alcoa Fishing won the 2022-23 “Commissioner’s Cup” awarded to the state’s top high school team by Tennessee Bass Nation; Alcoa won seven team tournament titles last season, including the season-ending TBN State Championship in June on Douglas Lake.
And it put on another show Oct. 28 at Fort Loudon with six teams finishing in the top 30, including four in the top 10.
“Everybody on the Alcoa Fishing Team, we try to work together and everything,” said LaRue, whose father, J.J. LaRue, coaches the team. “But also, everybody on the fishing team is really serious about it. Like they don’t just go out there and fish. They go out there and practice, and it’s a little bit easier to practice on Fort Loudon because it’s all of our home lakes.”
LOUDON FINISH, BY NUMBERS
Only the top five teams had the five-bass limit Oct. 28 at Loudon, where blast-off and weigh-ins were at the “Canal Ramp,” or Tellico Dam Reservation Boat Ramp.
Vaulton and LaRue’s winning bag of 16-plus pounds was bolstered by the tournament’s lunker, a 4.40-pounder caught by Vaulton.
Alcoa’s Myers and Bailey were second with five bass weighing 10.78 pounds, ahead of third-place Clayton Kelley and Hunter Owens of Karns High (five bass, 8.96 pounds), fourth-place Jake Lovingood and Harlyn Nelson of Alcoa Fishing (five bass, 7.63 pounds), and fifth-place Cole Russell and Jackson Bennett of Anderson County High (four bass, 7.15 pounds).
Hunter Massengill and Levin May of Halls Middle won middle school division with five bass weighing 7.78 pounds.
LaRue knew what to expect that day.
“It’s my home lake. Loudon’s just not an easy lake to figure out,” LaRue said. “It’s a really tough lake unless you’re in the spring, which in the spring it’s pretty easy to figure out just because they’re spawning, but any other time of the year, it’s not an easy lake to figure out like you would think.”
HOW THEY WON
LaRue and Vaulton had their limit in the morning – but just barely.
“We were just fishing rock piles in six or seven foot of water,” LaRue said. “We caught a couple on a Spook and a couple on jig and then we had a largemouth that was on the borderline of acting like he was going to die but he wasn’t there yet. In BASS, you can’t cull a dead fish, so we decided to throw him back while he was still kicking to make sure he didn’t die in the live well.”
Their bite died when they put the largemouth back in the water.
Vaulton said they fished for about 3 hours until he hooked into the big bass using a jig at about 1:30 p.m.
“We were just flipping up on a bluff,” Vaulton said. “I just flipped it up on a bluff and it just smoked it. It fought pretty hard but we got it in pretty quick.”
It clinched the tournament.
“Honestly, when we had four smallmouth, I thought we had a chance to win with those, then we caught that big one,” Vaulton said. “At that point, we wanted to cull a couple more times to increase our weight even more for the points. The Bass Pro points aren’t run by placement but by weight over the year. The more weight you weigh in one tournament, the more of a lead you can get.”
Next up for Vaulton and LaRue is a State Open tournament on Cherokee Lake next Saturday (Nov. 11).
“Cherokee can be really tough,” Vaulton said. “We’ll get to practice for it a lot and hopefully we’ll do pretty good.”