CHARLOTTE, N.C. When all was said and done, two resonating observations were made by bass fishing's top pros, on hand to volunteer their time as mentors and boat captains at the inaugural Bassmaster Junior World Championship, held July 26 on Lake Norman, days before the CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch.
"I wish this event had been around when I was their age," praised Missouri's Chad Brauer of the long-anticipated event. "I guess it tells you about where the (BASS Chapter) Federation is headed with this program and how committed BASS is to the youth movement."
No stronger statement could have come from the 32-year-old pro who, as the son of Denny Brauer, was mentored by BASS fishing's all-time money winner. The younger Brauer was boat captain for Bradley Roy, the 13-year-old junior world champion of the 11-14 age division from Lancaster, Ky.
"Being around the pros, meeting them and learning from them was enough already," said Roy, who's already gained seven sponsors. "I just came here to learn."
"It was an eye-opening experience," added Arkansas' Mike McClelland, captain of the boat from which Sean Alarid, 15, of Oakley, Calif., emerged as champion in the 15-17 age division. "I was sitting in the back of the boat comparing his ability to where I was at that age.
"I wasn't even close. Those kids were fishing like I did only after I'd been at it for 10 years."
Said Alarid, "It hasn't sunk in yet. This is what I want to do when I grow up qualify for the Classic."
McClelland, 36, was among 33 Classic contestants who volunteered their time to mentor the youths from each of the two age divisions. It was an admirable gesture of support, considering the grind of what they were up against later in the week.
By the rules, the pros were allowed to pilot the boat to fishing locations chosen by the youths, at which point they took over the trolling motor. Two youths, one from each age group, were paired together.
The competition was intended to mirror the competitive aspects of the Classic. It succeeded in all respects. Up for grabs was $27,000 in scholarships and prizes, big time winnings at this level. The youths fished from the same Triton X-Series Limited Edition Classic boats, rigged with high-tech Mercury, Lowrance and MotorGuide accessories.
They followed the same rules as the Classic pros and got a taste of what it's like to fish under the limitation of time. They weighed in before their fans, parents and Federation youth directors. They were interviewed by the media. And some even signed autographs for peers and admirers. They also found out that sometimes being a pro comes with hard knocks.
Alarid, who qualified from the Federation's Western Division and belongs to the Delta Teen Team, caught three 14-inch keepers weighing 6 pounds, 3 ounces. Roy, of the Southern Division and the Junior Kentucky River Bassmasters, managed to land two keepers weighing 3-15. The youths earned $5,000 in college scholarships for their wins.
Alarid collected another $1,000 when his 3-15 largemouth ranked tops in his division for the Purolator Big Bass of the Tournament. Ben Cayer's 3-4 largemouth took honors in the 11-14 division.
In theory, the catches were small but the strategies were progressive. Alarid, who mastered drop shotting at age 11, applied the West Coast technique made for tough fishing, by pitching the rig to docks positioned on main lake points.
His getup consisted of a 4-inch Sculpin Roboworm with Gamakatsu 1/0 EWG hook and 1/4-ounce drop shot. The rig was fished on an Okuma spinning reel spooled with 10-pound Trilene Sensation and a 6 1/2-foot rod.
Meanwhile, Roy targeted riprap shorelines with a Texas rigged red shad Berkley Power Worm. The latter bait was fished on a 1/4-ounce sinker with a 3/0 Gamakatsu hook. Both rigs were fished on Warrior Rods with Shimano Chronarch reels spooled with 15-pound-test Trilene.
Neither Roy nor Alarid are tournament rookies. Both have competed since the age of 7 in tournaments with their fathers, Steve Alarid and Anthony Roy. The latter angler is vice president and youth director for the Kentucky River Bassmasters.
The qualifiers advanced to the world championship through a grinding series of local, state or provincial levels. Some then had to qualify through the same divisional tournaments held at the adult level. The list of junior clubs stands at 141, although it will certainly grow based on the popularity of the championship.
"This is it, the future of the competitive side of bass fishing," summed up Chad Brauer.
Junior Bassmaster Notes & Quotes
The only difference between the wardrobes worn by the pros and the junior Bassmasters was shirt and pant sizes. Otherwise, the juniors wore the same neatly pressed tournament jerseys and were bedecked in the same chic $100-plus shades and hip lids worn by their heroes. Some even packed Sharpie autograph markers, including Texan Maddie Smith, spotted in the crowd signing her "Hancock" on the hat of a well-wisher.
Prophecy come true
The roots of the Bassmaster Junior World Championship can be traced back to the Maryland Federation and the legacy of Butch Ward, a longtime supporter of the BASS youth movement, who died in 1999. "This would have been a dream come true for him," said Maryland's Jim Kline of the former youth director, Federation president and tournament director. "He always told the kids this would happen, that BASS would take (Bassmaster) CastingKids to the next level and give this to them. He's up there now, smiling down on us."
Due to a scoring error that was later corrected, six anglers in the 15-17 age division earned scholarships. Jeremy Lins of Madison, Wis., whose catch was corrected from 3-9 to 5-14, earned $2,000 for second place. While the next four anglers all caught the same weight 3 pounds, 11 ounces BASS rules break ties first by number of fish caught, then by biggest bass caught. As a result, Mike Roselle of La Plata, Md., whose big bass was 2-3, earned $2,000, donated by Mercury Marine after judges initially announced that he finished in second and then corrected the error in Lins' score. Blake Stewart of Derby, Kan., earned a $1,500 scholarship after his big bass weighed in at 2-2; Robert Arasmith of Rome, Ga., earned $1,000 for his 1-15 big bass; and Jonathan Puhalski II of Winstead, Conn., earned $500 for his single 3-11 bass.
During the opening night banquet of the Junior Bassmaster World Championship, 2003 CITGO Bassmaster champion Mike Iaconelli expressed his enthusiasm for the youth event by proclaiming that being around so many kids made him feel like he was still 12 years old. A few minutes later, 2004 Classic contender Gerald Swindle joked, "Mike, I got news for you: You still look 12 years old."
After District of Columbia representative Shelby Bowling weighed her fish, the 18-year-old angler presented Classic contender Kelly Jordon, her boat captain, with a fishing-themed quilt that Bowling and her mother, Betty, made themselves.
"I just wanted to give my boat captain something as a way to say thank you. It really meant a lot to me that these professional anglers would do this. I figured a quilt would be something he could use, also," said Shelby, who spent about eight or 10 hours working on the gift.
Scott Barnim and Kyle Heels, Canada's two youth anglers, and their fathers, David Barnim and Gerry Heels, were in for quite a surprise when they took a cab ride to Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World north of Charlotte from their hotel downtown. When they reached their destination, they learned just how expensive American cab rides can be when the one-way fare turned out to be $50. To ease the pain of the hundred-dollar round trip, the four anglers brought home plenty of gear.
"Kyle won $100 from Bass Pro at the divisional in Michigan for the big bass and he spent almost all of that. I spent about $200 and Scott and his dad spent around $100," says Heels. "We get a Bass Pro Shops in Toronto this fall. It's only about 50 minutes away."
Heels and Barnim will likely drive themselves.
Angler profile: Bradley Roy
It's a good thing Bradley Roy's favorite subject is math. The 13-year-old Lancaster, Ky., angler might need good addition skills to keep track of the ounces and pounds, not to mention the paychecks, he compiles during future bass tournaments. Winning the 11- to 14-year-old age bracket in the Junior Bassmaster World Championship was just the first of what he hopes will be many more tournament victories.
"I'd like to be a professional angler. Or maybe an architect or a marine biologist," says Bradley, a member of the Junior Kentucky River Bassmasters. "My boat captain during the tournament was Chad Brauer. We talked about what it's like to be a professional bass fisherman and what I should do to go in that direction. He recommended I study business marketing in college."
If those seem like lofty goals, any of them are well within his reach, says his mother, Jacquie, as long as he continues doing as well as he is right now.
"He's a straight-A student," she says.
When he isn't testing lures or trying new techniques in his family's one-acre pond, Bradley is probably on the field or floor practicing football or basketball, his two other favorite sports, at Garrard Middle School.
Like most of the contenders in the Junior Bassmaster World Championship, Bradley started fishing when he was old enough to hold a pole, he says, adding that while bass will always be his favorite, he's content catching virtually anything with gills. He learned how to fish from his father, Anthony, and the two of them participate in local team tournaments on Herrington Lake, their home water, and other nearby reservoirs. Bradley and his father have fished as far away as Santee Cooper, but he hopes to make it to Okeechobee one day.
If he continues to hone his fishing skills and maintain his straight-A school work, there's a good chance he'll make it to Florida's largest lake, not just once, but many times throughout a lengthy career in professional bass fishing.
Angler profile: Sean Alarid
Sean Alarid has been bass fishing for half his life, but considering the winner of the Junior Bassmaster World Championship is only 15 years old, that's not a very long time. Still, he managed to outfish 33 others in the 15- to 18-year-old age bracket and claim a handsome scholarship and a new Triton boat.
Alarid is no stranger to catching big stringers of bass. The Oakley, Calif., resident lives just a five minute drive from the California Delta, one of the best bass fisheries in the country, and spends "four or five days a week" on the water with a fishing rod in his hand. He used a jig to catch an 8-pounder this year, and his biggest is about 10 pounds, which he caught on a crankbait
"I've been fishing since I was born, but when I was younger we fished for trout mostly, because that's what was closest," he explains. "When we moved to Oakley, my dad and I started bass fishing."
Since that move, the Freedom High School sophomore has become a quick study in the ways of bass and bass fishing. Sean favors topwater baits and he also likes to flip, a proven tactic on the Delta. He participates in youth and team tournaments with his club, Delta Teen Team, and with the youth club's Federation-affiliated sponsor, Delta Bassmasters.
He's not sure what he wants to do when he finishes school, but says fishing for a living is certainly an option. Sean lists PE as his favorite subject in school and he plays on an in-line hockey team, which meets once a week for practice.
"I used to play on a travel team, but it took up too much time," he says.
Time, no doubt, that could have been spent on the water in search of bass.