BY DAVE LINK
Freshman Hayden Barnett and sophomore Will Bacon of the Roane County High School Bass Fishing Team are confident whenever they fish a tournament on their home lake, Watts Bar.
But they’re not overconfident.
“It’s a pretty good advantage,” Barnett said, “but there’s so many good fishermen, you’ve still got to catch ’em good.”
That’s what they did again April 16 on Watts Bar when they won the fourth and final stop of the Tennessee BASS Nation’s Bass Pro Shops-Sevierville tour.
They won the same tournament in 2021 when Barnett was an eighth grader and Bacon a freshman fishing in the high school division.
And they won the stop’s junior division title during the COVID-19 year of 2020.
“If it’s in the spring, they’re a handful on Watts Bar,” said Kelly Barnett, Hayden’s dad and their boat captain. “They’re pretty good.”
It’s no wonder.
Both have been fishing Watts Bar and bird hunting in the area their entire lives.
“I’ve known Will just about my whole life,” Barnett said. “We’ve hunted and fished together since we were 4 or 5.”
It was a natural they would team up on the bass fishing circuit.
“We’ve just known each other our whole lives,” Bacon said, “so we work together well and we’ve been doing it forever.”
Bacon also plays golf for Roane County High (Kingston), which won the 2021 Class A state championship after a runner-up finish in 2020. He finished 15th in the state tournament last fall.
“I like both of them (golf and fishing) pretty much the same,” Bacon said. “It’s good to switch it up every now and then, so I enjoy both of them a lot.”
WINNING WATTS BAR (AGAIN)
Bacon and Barnett were among 260 boats taking off at Tom Fuller Park in Rockwood on a cloudy, windy Saturday for the 2022 Bass Pro Shops-Sevieville stop.
After a rainy night before, they found the fishing to be tough, going about 10 miles up the lake near Kingston when they started.
“We caught a bunch of short fish that weren’t keepers,” Barnett said. “We had five keeper bites all day and made all five count.”
They finished with the five-bass limit weighing 14.21 pounds, catching three largemouth and two smallmouth.
“It was tough,” Bacon said. “We got a lot of bites. We just caught a bunch of short fish, but we had five pretty good keeper bites so it ended up working out.”
They tried a variety of lures and caught most of their fish in shallow water.
Barnett caught their biggest bass, a 4-pound smallmouth.
“As soon as I set the hook on it, I knew I had a good fish, just from the way they fight and how many I’ve caught,” Barnett said. “And it jumped straight out of the water as soon as I hooked it.”
Finishing second were Hunter Owens and Carson Paul of Karns High Fishing with five bass weighing 12.93 pounds, ahead of Riley Faulkner and Blake Roberts of Campbell County Fishing (four bass, 11.56 pounds), and fourth-place Walker LaRue and Joe Vaulton of Alcoa Fishing (five bass, 11.39 pounds).
In the juniors (middle school) division, the winners were Hunter Napier and Landon Brock of Harlan County Fishing with five bass weighing 13.59 pounds, including a 4.28-pounder.
T.J. Murray and Braden Davis of the Rhea County Eagle Anglers were second (five bass, 8.85 pounds), ahead of Parker DeFoe and John-David Carroll of the Berean Christian Eagles (four bass, 8.20 pounds), Natalie Bullock and Jesse Vowell of Lake City Middle (three bass, 7.69 pounds) and Sawyer O’Hara and Eli O’Hara of Alcoa Fishing (two bass, 5.86 pounds).
IN THE STANDINGS
Barnett and Bacon are third in the Bass Pro Shops-Sevierville standings after the four stops with 29.77 pounds.
Faulkner and Roberts of Campbell County are atop the standings (44.33 pounds) and Cumberland Gap’s Alex Douglas and Will Douglas are second (31.52 pounds).
LaRue and Vaulton of Alcoa are fourth (28.04 pounds) behind Barnett and Bacon.
In the middle-school division, Napier and Brock are in first place (26.50 pounds), ahead of Mac Fritts and Reid Chapman of Campbell County Middle (21.11 pounds) and third place DeFoe and Carroll of Berean Christian (18.12).
Teams will be able to move up in the standings May 14 in the Bass Pro Shops-Sevierville Championship on Douglas Lake.
“We wouldn’t get ahead of Faulkner (and Roberts) on Douglas,” Bacon said, “but we’re less than 2 pounds from second right now.”
The next local stop on the Tennessee BASS Nation tour is Saturday (April 30) for the Southeast Championship on Watts Bar, taking off from Ladd Landing in Kingston.
Bacon and Barnett are confident, but not overconfident, going into this weekend.
“It’s a good time of year for us,” Bacon said, “so I think if we can get ’em to the boat, we’ll be all right.”
Said Barnett: “If they bite and we can get ’em to the boat, we’ll have a shot at it like last week.”