Jacob Wall casts his plastic worm toward shore, then watches his loose line carefully as the worm drifts down into the lair of a largemouth bass.
The line moves slightly to the side, indicating that a bass is mouthing the worm, so Wall rears his rod back to set the hook.
to be held in Arkansas in July
The Bass Federation's new state, regional and national high school bass-fishing championships are different than the federation's High School Fishing World Finals set for July 18-23 at Lake Dardanelle near Russellville, Ark.
The annual world finals is open and free to any member of TBF's Student Angler Federation, with two-member teams fishing for trophies and college scholarships.
Would-be participants don't have to fish through TBF's new state high-school championship series. They just have to show up.
"It kind of reminds me of the U.S. Open in golf," says Mark Gintert, TBF's national youth director. "It's a huge event open to everybody."
For more information on either program, check the TBF's website at www.highschoolfishing.org.
— Mark Freeman
The rod wiggles momentarily and then the line goes slack as the fish spits out the bait and swims away, much to the chagrin of Wall and his new fishing partner, Colby Pearson.
"That's two in a row I've missed," Wall says as he resets the bait on his hook. "I think it's because I didn't do very well on my chemistry test."
Wall and Pearson hope a different kind of chemistry they share as elite young bass anglers here in salmon country can catapult them to new heights among the country's competitive high-school bassers.
The pair will team up Saturday on the Columbia River to fish for smallmouth bass in the inaugural Oregon State High School Championship tournament based out of the Hood River Marina and organized by The Bass Federation, based in Oklahoma.
The duo will try to outcast and out-catch other two-teen teams for the right to represent the Northwest in regional competition next fall — and possibly even the new national high-school championships next spring.
The regional and national events have yet to be scheduled, but they will be held in tandem with college tournaments, and winners will receive everything from trophies and medals to education-based awards such as college scholarships, says Mark Gintert, TBF's national youth director.
The TBF has organized a series of new state or multi-state championships strictly for high-school anglers this year as part of a strategy to help expand tournament angling to the younger generation of bassers.
While some state tournaments have attracted as few as 15 teams, Kentucky's state tournament drew 73 teams, and Gintert believes participation will leap exponentially in the the near future.
"In three years, we'll probably be dealing with 8,000 to 10,000 kids across the nation," says Gintert, who is based in Kentucky. "This is the single most exciting thing in this sport right now."
It's certainly exciting to Wall and Pearson, who believe winning Oregon's initial state title will help push them closer to their ultimate goal of slots within the country's professional bass-fishing tours.
"That's what we want, for sure," Pearson says. "But right now, we want to win this and get us to the regionals."
The pair come with a collective pedigree likely unmatched in the Oregon championship.
Pearson, of Central Point, gained wide acclaim among bassers nationwide in 2006 after he caught, photographed and released what likely would have been a state-record largemouth of at least 12 pounds from Hyatt Lake, saying he didn't want to see the bass die just for a record.
Wall, 16, of Jacksonville, is a two-time finalist in the Bassmasters' CastingKids competition held in conjunction annually with TBF's national championships.
The St. Mary's School sophomore has fished tournaments since he was 13 and competes through the Crater Bass Club. Pearson, a Crater High School junior, has fished competitively since age 11.
They have known each other for years, but they didn't start fishing together until last winter, when Wall recruited Pearson as a teammate specifically for these championships.
The duo are a natural team, largely because their fishing styles complement each other.
Wall, who fishes up front, gets the first pass at each bass and often fishes plastic worms and grubs. It's a technique that helps garner a five-fish limit for the tourney but doesn't exactly put him in place for catching really big fish.
While Wall goes for quantity, Pearson goes for quality. He fishes large swim baits, such as imitation rainbow trout, in hopes of putting a few big bass in the live well.
"I like to force-feed them the bigger baits," Pearson says.
The pair have been fishing together a half-dozen times out of Wall's bass boat at local reservoirs and occasionally at a private lake near Sams Valley, casting amid freezing rains and wicked winds.
"We're probably the most dedicated bass fishermen in Oregon," Wall says.
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email email@example.com.