PELL CITY, Ala. At first glance, Kentucky and South Africa wouldn't seem to have much in common, but at the Bassmaster Junior World Championship, they each can boast of a champion.
Seventeen-year-old Kalem Tippett of Hanson, Ky., bested a field of 43 other young anglers between the ages of 15 and 18, while Capetown, South Africa's Geoffrey Toplis (14) took top honors among the same number of competitors in the 11-14 bracket. The youngsters were paired with Bassmaster Classic contenders Kelly Jordan and Edwin Evers, respectively.
Fishing was tough on Alabama's Logan Martin Lake, with just 37 bass coming to the scales in the 15-18 division and only 21 in the 11-14 bracket. No angler had a 5-bass limit, and only two anglers had as many as three bass to weigh in.
Everyone described the fishing as "cold" and "tough," with low air temperatures in the 20s and water temperatures in the mid 40s. Cold winds made comfort impossible and fishing extremely difficult.
Tippett's three bass weighed 7 pounds, 8 ounces, edging Louisiana's Brandon Weathers by a single ounce. The Kentucky angler caught two of the fish on a 1/2-ounce War Eagle jigging spoon that he cast to dropoffs located during the practice period. His final bass fell to a Lucky Craft Pointer 100 jerkbait.
"I had never caught a bass on a jerkbait before," Tippett explained, "but Kelly Jordon showed me how to fish it, and it really made a difference."
Other anglers in the competition echoed his sentiments as they paid tribute to the teaching skills of the professionals who drove their boats throughout the practice and competition days.
When asked by BASS Youth Director Stacy Twiggs what was going through his mind the moment he realized he had won the championship, Tippett said, "Everything! I've been fishing since I was old enough to walk."
Toplis was another young angler who benefited from his time with a pro (Evers). Prior to the competition, he had never caught a bass on a jig, but both fish in his winning catch fell to a 3/4-ounce green pumpkin jig with a green pumpkin Smallie Beaver trailer that had been tipped with chartreuse dye.
"I caught the last of the two bass with just 20 minutes to go," said Toplis. "I wanted to net it, but the net had gotten tangled up in some rods. The fish was caught in a brushpile, and I had to reach deep into the water up past my elbow to get it loose. I wasn't going to let that bass get away!"
Ohio's Corey Lindsey had the biggest bass of the event, a 5-pound, 7-ounce largemouth that struck a jig he fished slowly along a chunk rock bank. Lindsey was fishing with Elite Series pro and Classic qualifier James Charlesworth.
For their efforts, Tippett and Toplis earned $5,000 academic scholarships, plus new Triton boats and Mercury outboards. Lindsey earned a $1,000 scholarship from Purolator.
With Tippett and Toplis, Kentucky and South Africa together made a strong international point today. Bass fishing exceeds national borders, and the Bassmaster Junior World Championship is truly a world-wide event.