GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. — For a while, it looked like a statistical tiebreaker would be necessary to decide the Mossy Oak Fishing Bassmaster High School Southern Open presented by Academy Sports + Outdoors on Lake Guntersville.
But as the weigh-in was winding down, Westin Moss and Josh Willis of Tennessee’s Whitwell High School bypassed the drama with a five-bass limit that weighed 20 pounds, 11 ounces.
Moss and Willis earned $3,200 for the Whitwell High School fishing team and a spot in the Mossy Oak Fishing Bassmaster High School National Championship.
“It was a little bit windy, and at first we didn’t think we were gonna catch anything,” Willis said. “But we pulled off five good ones. We had a lot of fun today.”
Saying it was “a little bit windy” was slightly underplaying the strong gusts that made Lake Guntersville extremely choppy for the duration of the tournament. The lake was white-capping most of the afternoon, but most of the 296-boat field managed to find bass anyway.
Laney Skipper and Taylor Brown of Alabama’s Rehobeth High School took the lead early with 18-7 and sat nervously on the hot seat for more than an hour.
They were finally unseated by Brody Robison and Levi Cox of Alabama’s Sand Rock High School, who weighed in the same total of 18-7. Robison and Cox won the tiebreaker because their biggest bass — a 5-8 largemouth — was bigger than the 4-13 bass that anchored the limit caught by Skipper and Brown.
If the standings had remained the same, Robison and Cox would have taken the title. But Moss and Willis made the tiebreaker unnecessary to determine a champion.
Since the winners live only 90 minutes from Lake Guntersville — and might fish another tournament on the lake soon — they wouldn’t give too many specifics on the lures they were using. They only said they were using Driftwood Swimbaits, which are made in Jasper, Tenn.
“We were just throwing them out and reeling them in around shallow grass, and they would smack it,” Willis said.
Moss said he had located the bass during practice, but he thought he’d need to get to the spot early to beat the boat traffic.
They drew Boat No. 268, a later draw than he had hoped for. But to his surprise, there were only five other boats in the area — and they didn’t stay long.
“I knew there were fish there, but I expected there to be about 30 other boats back in there with us,” Moss said. “It was a whole lot better than I expected.”
Moss and Willis said they caught bass steadily and probably put 11 or 12 fish in the boat throughout the day. They culled two small bass with only an hour left to fish — and that’s when their boat captain, Shane Moss, told them he thought they had a chance to win.
Unfortunately, that made them a little nervous.
“I told them they had a really nice bag and that I thought they had a real shot at it,” he said. “After that, I noticed they started reeling a little too fast and getting a little too excited. I told them just to slow down and keep doing what they had been doing.
“They did a great job. There were times when we went nearly two hours without a bite, but they kept their cool.”
Robison and Cox were credited with second place and received $2,000 for the Sand Rock High School fishing team. Skipper and Brown took third place and earned $1,500 for the Rehobeth High School team.
The new Junior Division, which includes teams from grades second through eighth, drew 49 boats that all weighed in before the high school anglers took the stage.
First place among the juniors was the eighth-grade team of Tristen Boyd and Reagan Hershman from Grundy County in Tennessee. They caught five bass that weighed 12-6 and finished just ahead of the Alabama team of Fisher Anaya and Cody Brooks who finished second with 10-8.