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Young bass caster is master

Standing on the casting platform in front of hundreds of people with a two-time champ to follow, 13-year-old Jacob Wall took an old mental chill-pill before his one and only cast toward a trip to the national bass-casting championships.

His nerve-steadying experience? Baseball.

"I wasn't too nervous," Jacob says. "I'm a pitcher. I have a lot of experience with pressure."

With that, the Jacksonville boy known as "The Ice Man" on the diamond cast his way to a trip to the Bassmaster Classic in February by winning a regional casting championship in Florida.

Jacob's jig, chucked with a required overhead cast to a target 30 feet away, fell just shy of a bullseye. But that was close enough to edge two-time champ Kiana Clark of Washington and two others in a tie-breaking cast-off to represent the West in the Bassmaster CastingKids Finals.

The finals will be held Feb. 22-24 at the Bassmaster Classic in Greenville, S.C. He will compete in the Age 11-14 Division for a chunk of the $21,000 in academic scholarships and trophies.

The semifinals, held Nov. 9-10 in Florida, also were filmed by ESPN, which produces the classic. Outtakes of Jacob and other semifinalists will get some air-time on ESPN in mid-February, says Andy Hall from the BASS federation in Florida.

Jacob's semifinals qualification earned him and his parents a family trip the semis, including a day at Disneyworld and a meeting with Bassmaster founder Ray Scott. At the classic, he'll get to rub elbows with the top 37 bass anglers in the world as they compete for their sport's Super Bowl.

Not bad for a kid from a steelhead fly-fishing family spawned in the coldwater Northwest.

"It's wild, considering we're salmon/steelhead (anglers) here and we're competing with guys from the South," says Steve Wall, Jacob's father. "But he's the Ice Man."

The CastingKids competitions amount to the bass-casting equivalent of the National Football League's Punt, Pass and Kick. But here, the lauded skills are the flip, the pitch and the overhead cast.

The format is simple. Kids are broken into two age groups, 7-10 years old and 11-14 years old. They use traditional casting methods from set points, firing at a target for points.

From 10 feet is the flip — a simple swing of the lead jig used for short-distance casts the pros use around docks and boat houses.

From 20 feet is the pitch — an extended swing used to pinpoint a jig around trees and other submerged structures frequented by bass. The caster holds the jig and pitches it forward, allowing it to free-spool line as it glides toward the target.

Last, at 30 feet, is the overhead cast — a snapping two-handed shot with the rod in the air.

In the tournaments, kids all use the same rod, reel and jig combination. They get two practice casts then two competition casts at each station. Top score from each station gets added together, with a perfect score of 150.

After a day at Disneyworld and another day of practice, the kids assembled in an arena, where Jacob drew on his nickname while waiting for his turn.

"There's 106 kids competing and all their families are in the grandstands watching their every move," Steve Wall says. "It was like a tennis match. You could hear a pin drop. It was wild," he says.

At the flip, he scored a 50, then marched over to the pitch and summarily cast a 20-point dog.

"I was stressed out a little bit," he says. "I figured I had to get a 50 to have a chance."

He got it, but he followed that with the overhead cast for two disappointing scores of 30.

His 130 matched the score he needed to win the Oregon state qualifier in Wilsonville last August.

"I told my dad I didn't think I won, and he said that was all right," Jacob says.

Later, he learned that he tied three other casters. It led to a cast-off. No practice casts, just one for the money. Jacob would go third, Clark would go last.

The first contestant hit a 20, and the second bested that to 30. Jacob approached the target.

"I wasn't too nervous," he says.

Though the overhead cast was his least favorite and the least practiced on his gravel Jacksonville driveway, he nailed a 40 pointer by just missing a bullseye.

Then Clark followed. The jig seemed to fly as slow as a slide show.

"It bounced into the 30 ring, and right there I knew I had won," Jacob says.

Jacob's 15 minutes began literally with a flash.

"Some guy took my picture," he says. "I got a big trophy, another rod and reel, and another medal."

He also got an interview with BASS Times and a date to test his Ice Man mettle one last time.

"I gotta practice," he says.

Jacob Wahl practices casting in the driveway of his Jacksonville home. - Bob Pennell