Cole Koenig and Kyle Mann reeled in success from a boat on the East Coast recently.
The two Lodi High sophomores, who are members of the Lodi High bass team, competed at the Student Angler Federation’s 10th annual High School Fishing World Finals and National Championship Combined Event at Lake Pickwick in Florence, Ala. toward the end of June, where they took 104th place. Koenig and Mann had a combined weight of 17 1/2 pounds of bass between both of them, which advanced them to the finals.
“The boys are able to bring in their three heaviest fish; their three heaviest bass,” said Nick Welton, who is the team advisor/coach. “Those fish are weighed and carried over into the next day.”
This was the first time in the program’s existence that the Flames placed on the national level. There were 388 teams, with each squad having two students fishing, competing. The teams came from all over the United States.
During the three-day run, each teams are allowed to fish during eight hours each day.
Here’s the catch — pardon the pun: The bass have to be alive at the time the young fishermen bring in their bass at the end of each day.
“The bass are kept in an aerated livewell until weighed-in,” Welton said.
Then the bass are released back into the lake after weigh-in.
The top 31 teams that had the heaviest bass after two days advanced to the third day. The winning weight on the final day was 16 pounds, 6 ounces from a combined three fishes.
“Which is pretty big,” Welton said.
During the competition, the young fishermen can catch a bass and release if they feel that the bass is too small. Each bass fish must be, at least, 12 inches in length.
Prior to competing at the nationals, Koenig and Mann, plus other teams competing, were able to practice at the lake for 2 1/2 days. Welton said between the time traveling to and from Florence, Ala., they were there for nine days and eight nights.
The two boys and Welton fished off Welton’s boat, which is a Skeeter FX20. The boat is 20 feet, 1 inch long and weighs 2,075 pounds.
The best part of the nationals, Welton pointed out, was fishing for bass in the middle of the lake. That is where bass prefer to be at the deeper part of lakes during the summer months. In the spring, bass are usually found in shallow and river banks of a lake because of spawning, where bass release or deposit their eggs.
Koenig and Mann qualified for the nationals by taking fourth place at the state championships, which were held at Clear Lake in May. A combined three California and Arizona squads finished higher than Koenig and Mann.
Leading up to the state championships, Lodi won one event and took second place in another.
The Lodi High bass team finished its second season when the 2018-19 school year ended toward the end of May. There were 18 members on the squad that included Koenig and Mann.
Welton sees Koenig and Mann and the rest of the team on a daily basis during the school year. An officer for the Lodi Police Department the last 19 years, Welton works as a resource officer at Lodi High. The 2019-20 school year, which will start the last week of this month, will be his third year at the campus.
“It works out to our benefit,” Welton said. “I’m glad I’m in the position where I am.”
Welton, 49, is an experienced fisherman. He’s been fishing since he was 19.
The regular season, leading up to the post-season in May, starts in September and runs through early May. Welton said that the team has one, sometimes two events each month.
“We fish through the wind and the rain; as long as the wind is not real high,” Welton said. “With high winds, they will cancel the event, lightning they will cancel the event. As far as snow and rain, we still stay.”
If there’s thunder, the event could be delayed. Then it would be canceled if there’s lightning.
Welton had one girl on the 18-fishermen roster this past season. He hopes that some more girls, along with more boys, sign up after the 2019-20 school year begins. He’s projecting 15 fishermen who were on last year’s team to return, most of whom are sophomores.
According to Will DeBoard, assistant commissioner for the Sac-Joaquin Section, there are not too many high school bass teams in the section.
Contact Mike Bush at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter: @MBushLodiSports.