Birmingham, Ala. Kids may say the darndest things, but at the Bassmaster Junior World Championship on Alabama's Logan Martin Lake, 88 young men and women representing 44 states and foreign countries were very tight-lipped about their fishing.
Today was practice day on the Alabama reservoir for the young anglers and their professional mentors, 44 qualifiers for the Bassmaster Classic, coming up next week on nearby Lay Lake. It was a time for fine-tuning, locating fish to be caught during Sunday's competition day and gawking at their idols who shared a boat and angling expertise with them and who will guide them again tomorrow when the catches really count.
Shane Lehew (fishing in the 15-18 age bracket) and Jordan McMorris (11-14) had the best of it today while fishing with Arkansas pro Mike McClelland. They brought a three-bass limit to the scales that weighed 11 pounds, 7 ounces. The catch was only good for bragging rights going into the actual competition round, but it puts all eyes on Lehew and McMorris. On Sunday, they'll be competing individually within their age brackets for scholarship money and prizes, including a new Triton boat and Mercury outboard.
Although many of the teams brought 3-bass limits to the weigh-in, no one was talking about the effective patterns. They're holding their cards close to the vest in hopes they have an edge the other teams haven't figured out yet.
Small baits and slow retrieves were the order of the day for most of the teams. Only McClelland's young anglers gave anything away about their location, admitting simply that they were fishing points.
Not all the competitors brought bass to the scales today, however. In fact, many decided to spend their day searching for likely areas they will fish tomorrow. Others deliberately left biting fish in hopes they'll be just as cooperative when it counts.
Oklahoma pro Tommy Biffle's young partners admitted to "sandbagging" a little, and Biffle said that Andy Wicker and Eli Frierson shook off several fish they could have boated. If all goes their way, they'll get bites from those same fish tomorrow.
While the juniors were universally impressed with the fishing skills of their pro guides, the pros seemed just as impressed with the youths. Oklahoma's Edwin Evers called Tyler McCune and Geoffrey Toplis, "two of the best young men" he's ever fished with, and Arkansas' Mike Wurm said Dan Swenson and Coby Sieben "will be challenging the Elite Series pros in a few years."
Four-time Bassmaster Classic champion Rick Clunn marveled at the commitment of the young men and women in the tournament, saying, "You can teach technique, but the wonderful attitudes that these young anglers have is something you can't teach."
The field of young competitors agreed on two things about the practice round: (1) it was cold out there (lows in the 20s and highs in the mid-40s), and (2) it was "awesome" to fish with the pros.
Tomorrow promises to be just as cold and just as awesome for the youths, one of whom described the opportunity to fish with a bass pro as the "chance of a lifetime."