MANY — Nearly two-thirds of the 98 teams entered in the Costa Bassmaster High School Series Central Open hailed from Louisiana. And, of that number, many of the two-angler squads were from the communities near Toledo Bend, where the tournament was held — in towns like Natchitoches, DeRidder and tiny Stonewall, which is home to North DeSoto High School.
But even with all those bayou-born anglers in the field, none were better than a pair of teenagers from southwest Mississippi.
Caleb Gatwood and Cayden Soberoski, students at Oak Grove High School near Hattiesburg, won Monday’s Central Open, and did so by bringing only three of a possible five fish to the scales at Cypress Bend Park. The duo’s total of 14 pounds, 4 ounces was built almost entirely on two lunkers Gatwood landed around 9 a.m.
The larger of the two fish weighed 6-pounds, 8-ounces, and the other was right behind at 6-5. The duo’s third fish of the one-day event, a 1-7 bass Soberoski caught in the final minutes of fishing time, may have been the most important fish of the tournament. Without it, the Oak Grove team wouldn’t be heading to the Costa Bassmaster High School national championship, scheduled on Kentucky Lake in August.
They also won a $1,000 prize, which goes to the Oak Grove bass fishing program. The top-10 teams in the tournament qualified for the national championship, and the top 13 teams collected cash for their prep squads.
The winners said the victory was a bonus, because their primary goal was to qualify for nationals with a solid showing on Toledo Bend. The 185,000-acre reservoir was again named the No. 1 bass fishery in the U.S. by Bassmaster.com.
“We were hoping we’d get a top position, but with only three fish, I was nervous,” said Gatwood, a 17-year-old rising senior. “It’s a high school tournament, so you don’t expect 25-pound bags everywhere, but you’d think you’d see one. I was thinking we had a shot (to win with three fish), but it was slim.”
Gatwood and Soberoski took their places in the “Hot Seat” about a quarter way through the weigh-in, and held onto them until the end. Team after team brought fish to the scales, but couldn’t catch the Mississippi boys.
“It feels good,” Gatwood said of picking up the win more than six hours from Oak Grove. “Back at home, we’ve been beating (Mississippi teams) on their lakes too, but this is nice.”
“This is my first time on Toledo Bend,” said Soberoski, a 16-year-old rising junior. “Being able to come out here on something new and getting a chance to be first is great.”
Gatwood caught the two biggest bass on a shaky head jig with a long magnum finesse worm, he said. His team, which consisted of him, Soberoski, and non-angler coach/adviser Mark Gatwood, positioned its boat off points in about 30 feet of water, and would cast toward an underwater hump that was about 25 feet below surface.
Soberoski mainly used a Carolina rig, and said he struggled to find much action. In fact, the team only caught four fish the entire day, and one was too small to keep.
The gravity of his last-minute catch wasn’t lost, however: “I finally caught a fish, and it was the fish that kept us in first place,” Soberoski said.
Five of the top 10 teams in the field were from Louisiana. The top 10 were: Dalius Richardson and Trevor McKinney of Benton (Illinois) High, 13-13; third (tie) Will Moffett and Kyle McCormick of Franklin County (Mississippi), and Hunter Muncrief and Landen McCary of West Sabine (Texas) High, 12-9; fifth, Ben Abraham, Alexandria Senior High 12-5; sixth, Grant Bourque and Ethan Smart of Ascension Anglers, 12-2; seventh, Kole Greer and Kyler Radford of North DeSoto High, 11-14; eighth, Stephen Whitlow and Jared Young of Sarasota (Florida) High, 11-14; ninth, Wesley Holt and Colby Miller of Oak Hill High, 10-13; and 10th, Kyle Everett and Dustin Wellman of DeRidder High, 10-11.
Bourque landed the big bass of the tournament with a 6-15 largemouth.
Louisiana B.A.S.S. Nation vice president Tracy Noble said though a Louisiana tandem didn’t win the Central Open on “home” waters, the future is bright for high school bass fishing in the Bayou State.
“We do a lot to help them in the B.A.S.S. Nation by putting on qualifying tournaments,” Noble said. “It makes your heart beat faster when you can have an event like this in Louisiana. It makes you proud when they do well. We have some good kids, and some excellent fishermen.”
Ten states from around the U.S. were represented in the Costa Bassmaster High School Central Open. The tournament was originally scheduled to be held on Toledo Bend in March, but was postponed because of flooding across the state that made many access roads to the reservoir unpassable.