By DAVE LINK
Owen Ray and Camdyn Cranfill didn’t know what to expect when they took off on Douglas Lake for the third stop of the Tennessee BASS Nation State Open Trail on Nov. 13.
What they found that cold, windy day was a bass fisherman’s dream.
Fishing for the Rhea County Eagle Anglers’ junior team, Ray and Cranfill landed bass after bass after bass. They were catching bass so fast that their driver/captain, Camdyn’s dad Hagen, hardly had time to help them weigh and cull out the smaller bass.
“Literally, they’d throw over there, hop the bait twice and they’d have one,” Hagen Cranfill said. “It was almost like crappie fishing, I guess.”
Only it was bass fishing.
“I think all together we caught 55 or 60 keepers,” said Owen Ray, who attends Spring City Middle School.
Their five biggest bass weighed a combined 12.99 pounds – and included a 4.38-pounder – as they claimed the first-place title for the State Open Trail event at Douglas.
“I was pretty excited because we’ve come in second place so many times, and finally we got the win,” said Cranfill, who attends Rhea County Middle School.
It was a big day for the Rhea County Eagle Anglers’ juniors, which is coached by Owens’s dad James Ray.
Rhea County’s Blake James and Turner Tharpe finished second with four bass weighing 12.61 pounds with their biggest at 4.34 pounds.
Rhea’s T.J. Murray and Jackson Ray (Owen’s brother) were third with five bass weighing 11.33 pounds, including a 4.0-pounder.
Ray and Cranfill were close to winning earlier this year.
“It’s a big achievement for me,” Ray said. “The last couple of years I’ve been fishing, I’ve come close to winning, multiple seconds and thirds and stuff.
“It was great to win because this September we fished on Lake Pickwick and we got beat by five-tenths of an ounce, so it was big.
FINDING THE SPOT
Ray and Cranfill went to Douglas Lake the weekend of Nov. 6-7 with Hagen Cranfill to do some pre-fishing for the tournament.
It was OK fishing. Not great.
“I caught about a 4-pounder,” Ray said. “We caught a handful of 2s and stuff.”
Cranfill said: “That weekend we didn’t get many bites, but the ones we got were good ones.”
It was their first time ever fishing Douglas Lake.
“They found fish on the bank and in the back of the pockets on crankbaits and rattletraps and topwater (lures),” Hagen Cranfill said, “but the bites were kind of scattered and mixed. You could put together a decent limit, but with what pressure was going to be there with everybody else, it was going to be kind of hard to make that work. That was actually our plan until I went back up there on Thursday and fished around.”
Cranfill fished Douglas again Thursday afternoon, Nov. 11, and eventually found a school of bass in a pocket of water, spotting the school on his electronics in about 20 to 25 feet of water. He made about six casts, caught about four fish, and decided to try it again Friday morning to see if the school was still there and biting.
“I went to the same spot first thing in (Friday) morning, made one cast and caught one,” Cranfill said. “I decided to leave it alone, and that’s when we made our decision we were going to throw away everything that we had (planned to fish) shallow and go to that school of fish the morning and at least give it a few hours to see how good it was and how much you could make out of it.”
WINNING THE OPEN
Ray and Cranfill returned to the same spot early that Saturday morning, turned on their electronic scanners, and the school of bass was still there.
They started out fishing blade baits with tail spinners, about 20 to 25 feet deep, and within about 10 casts, they landed their limit of five keepers.
And then they kept pulling in bass, keeping the bigger ones and culling out the smaller ones.
“We fished for 6 or 7 hours,” Cranfill said, “but we stayed in the same spot all day because it seemed to bring consistent fish out of there.”
The spot was about the size of a football field, about 25 feet from the bank.
“I thought we’d go to that spot,” Cranfill said, “and maybe catch a few and then go shallow, but the shallow thing, we just threw it away once we got there because I guess everything went deep. We got there and I think by 8:30 we had a limit, and we got there around 8:15.”
Hagen Cranfill said it was fun – and frantic – taking part in the process.
“In the first hour and a half,” Hagen said, “they’d caught about 30 fish and missed five or six more that came off coming to the boat.”
Ray caught the 4.38-pounder on the blade bait with a tail spinner – the primary bait they used all day. At first, Ray’s big bass felt like an average one they were catching.
“Honestly, every fish we caught there kind of felt the same, withing a pound and a half or so, because of how deep we were having to pull them up,” Ray said. “The only way I could tell that one was going to be a little bit bigger was the way it started shaking its head.”
BUILDING THE CLUB
While James Ray coaches the Rhea County Eagle Anglers’ juniors team, Andy Goins coaches the high school team.
The Eagle Anglers has a board of directors and is in its second season not operating as part of Rhea County High School. Buddy White is president of the board, with Jeff Hester as vice president, Angie Hester as treasurer, and Christina Goins and Erin Stanley as secretaries.
“We’re just trying to make it as big as possible,” James Ray said, “and get as many kids as interested in it as we can and try to keep it growing. That’s what we wanted to do when we took it over and made it more of a club deal and we weren’t limited as to what we could do.”
Blake James and Turner Tharpe had a big season as seventh-graders last year when they won a Bassmaster Junior National title in Carroll County, Tenn.
James and Tharpe are currently in first place in this year’s State Open junior standings, while Ray and Cranfill are in second place.
They’re the only two Eagle Anglers junior teams in the State Open points chase. Only two junior teams from Tennessee qualify for the 2022 nationals next fall.
James and Tharpe are in their second year of fishing together.
Cranfill and Ray partnered up for the first time this year.
They won’t forget what happened Nov. 13 on Douglas Lake, and Hagen Cranfill won’t forget seeing it.
“We were excited and tickled to get the win,” Hagen said, “especially with all the talent that’s out there these days. But to just go fishing and catch that many fish in a day was something pretty special in itself.”