McKENZIE, Tenn. — From start to finish, Alex Heintze and Justin Watts of Denham Springs held the lead at the Costa Bassmaster High School National Championship.
Saturday, the tournament’s final day, the Livingston Parish Bassmasters team added a third consecutive 20-plus-pound catch and made their win official.
After three days on Kentucky Lake, the teenagers caught 66 pounds to win the Costa Bassmaster High School series’ most elite tournament.
Their three-day winning total included daily five-bass limits weighing 20 pounds 10 ounces, 23-14 and 22-2.
Their nearest competition came from a pair of fellow Louisiana anglers, the St. Amant High team of Braden Blanchard and Cade Fortenberry, who finished with a 51-15 total.
How Heintze and Watts won was just as impressive as the margin of victory. During summertime, the lake is revered for its trophy bass fishing on main-river channel ledges. Big bass school in deep water and are caught in abundance on crankbaits.
The deep-diving lure never factored in the team’s strategy, nor did the lake’s signature deep-water ledges.
Instead, Heintze and Watts relied on their fishing strengths in south Louisiana’s shallow bayous.
“We didn’t come here to fish the ledges, so we committed to fishing shallow,” Heintze, the 16-year-old Denham Springs High junior said. “The lake set up to fish shallow anyway with the water so high.”
Heintze said the team’s first stop during practice ended the search for bass. Flooded shoreline habitat, the presence of baitfish and inundated ditches attracted enough bass to sustain their strategy for three days.
“The high water was the difference,” said Watts, 15, a sophomore at Live Oak High School. “Without it, the fish wouldn’t be there, and I doubt they will be tomorrow.”
He noted the water dropped overnight by six inches for the final day’s fishing. The predator bass hid in the brush piles to ambush baitfish.
The team alternated between a tube jig and topwater frog. That choice was a black Spro Dean Rojas Signature Series Bronzeye Frog. A Strike King tube jig Texas rigged with a ¼-ounce weight and 4/0 Trokar hook completed the lure arsenal.
“I never thought we’d come to Kentucky Lake and catch bass like that on a frog, but we did,” Heintze said, adding that when success with the frog slowed, they switched to a flipping presentation with the tube jig.
They said all the 20-pound limits were caught by 9 a.m. from a 150-yard stretch of shoreline.
“We thought of trying other places, but we didn’t know if other contestants might be on the spots,” Watts said. “It didn’t seem like the sportsmanlike thing to do, so we stayed in the same area.”
Bethel University offered four-year scholarships valued at $20,000 each to Heintze and Watts.
The championship drew a record of 134 teams representing 37 states and Ontario.
Teams competed for $94,000 in scholarships and prizes. Heintze and Watts are invited to compete in the Bassmaster High School Classic that coincides with the 2016 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro. The championships are next March in Tulsa, Oklahoma.