ANDERSON, S.C. — Despite slinging an ear on their prop during their morning run, Reece Keeney and Bryce Moder from the Northeast Wisconsin Bass Club secured 16 pounds, 12 ounces on Day 2 of the Bassmaster High School National Championship tournament on Lake Hartwell to jump into the lead with 30-1. Adding to their 13-5 Day 1 performance, which put them in 14th place, Keeney and Moder hold more than a 2-pound advantage over the Gardendale High School team of Chris Fallon and Briar Dodson.
“It is a true dream come true. This is my senior year, so to be fishing the final day of the National Championship and have a shot to win, I couldn’t dream of anything else,” Keeney said.
As multitime Bassmaster Junior National Championship qualifiers, Keeney and Moder have gotten a taste of what being on the Bassmaster stage is like, and Moder said that has helped them stay positive.
“We just don’t get frustrated,” Moder said. “Any adversity, we just shun it and look forward to the next catch.”
It has been a week of adapting for the Wisconsin duo on Lake Hartwell. After finding a productive pattern in practice, Moder said conditions changed and they had to find a different way to catch them. On Day 1, they were able to catch 12 bass. On Friday, they only got six or seven bites but their quality improved.
“Today was tougher fishing. We put our heads down and grinded the day out. We tried to forget about the adversity and focus on the fish,” Moder said. “We were able to find a pattern and stick to it, and that’s what we are going to stick with.”
As natives of the Wolf River system, one technique has traveled well with them to South Carolina. Keeney and Moder have been using a Brovarney Baits swim jig in 15 to 20 feet of water — and while they have been catching a mixture of spotted bass and largemouth, only largemouth have made up their five-fish limit each day.
“(The swim jig) hasn’t disappointed yet so hopefully it won’t disappoint tomorrow and we can go whack them,” Keeney said.
Despite a longer run due to the prop issue, Moder and Keeney went right to work when they reached their starting spot, catching a quality bass on their first or second cast. From there, the duo filled their limit around 11 a.m. and on the final cast of the day, they landed a 5-pounder to boost their bag.
“We have one main spot that seems to keep reloading with fish,” Keeney said. “We are going to run that tomorrow and give it our best.”
When the anglers launch for Championship Saturday, they plan to rely on their main area but have several other locations marked as backup that have been productive as well.
“It isn’t as good, not the same quality. But there are still fish on it,” Moder said.
After landing in 15th after Day 1 with 13-0, Fallon and Dodson caught 14-11 on Day 2 and jumped into second with a total of 27-11. On their third cast this morning, the Coosa River anglers landed a 4-pounder to get the day started and were able to find a consistent bite.
“Throughout the day we were culling by ounces,” Dodson said. “(Fallon) ended up catching a big one around lunchtime. It all came together today.”
Fallon entered practice wanting to flip bushes on Lake Hartwell. But with the water lower than normal, they had to pivot and didn’t find their pattern until the last day of practice. Although they lost a fish over 3 pounds on the first morning, they have found a consistent bite they can run throughout the lake with one bait.
“We have a pattern,” Fallon said. “It is something the fish are doing in every creek. They are getting on the first thing they can where the bait is at. We are just running around, and we have some big largemouth.”
He added that a particular spot has produced bigger than average bites.
Kasey Ferguson and Jakari Thomas from Ringgold Bassin in Virginia climbed to third place with 27-7, adding 12-5 to their 15-2 performance on Day 1. Ferguson said they were able to jumpstart their day with an early morning pattern before the sun got high.
“The job isn’t finished yet,” Thomas said. “We have to do what we have to do tomorrow.”
Once the sun came out, the bite slowed down and they had to find new water.
“It was hot. We had to find new stuff and luckily we found the right spots,” Ferguson said. “It's a blessing to be where we are on a lake we’ve never fished before and doing somewhat decent.”
Destin Morales and Samuel Cobb Jr. from Livingston Parish High School remain on top for Big Bass of the Tournament with a 7-8 largemouth they caught on Day 1, while Ty Trentham and Chase McCarter from Sevier County High School hold Big Bag of the Tournament honors with their 17-15 sack from the first day.
The Top 12 teams will compete on Championship Saturday for the top prize of a $5,000 scholarship.