GILBERTSVILLE – Brandon Oswald was a winner before he even got to Kentucky Lake.
He left Kentucky Dam Marina Sunday evening a champion, as the teammate of Reid Finley of Kirksey, a member of the Calloway County varsity bass fishing team.
The two boys combined for a catch of five bass totaling 25 pounds, 3 ounces to win Sunday’s second annual Murray State High School Fishing Open. Each received a $2,000 scholarship from Murray State University, plus other prizes.
Oswald, of Sparta, Wis., is an avid fisherman, but there’s no organized fishing competition for high school students in Wisconsin, he said – no bass clubs, no bass teams, nothing.
“We don’t have one at all,” he said. “It’s mainly all down south. I wasn’t expecting to fish [this event] at all.”
But as an open event sanctioned by The Bass Federation and its Student Angler Federation, Oswald – an SAF member – was eligible to enter. He just needed a teammate, and the two of them needed an adult volunteer boat captain.
“I got an email that said I could fish, and I was really excited,” Oswald said.
Finley is a regular competitor on the Calloway team, but he also found himself without a teammate Sunday.
“My other partner had a girl come from Arkansas [and] they’re really good friends and wanted to fish together,” Finley explained.
The Calloway coach, Jo Robertson, told Finley there was an opportunity for him to team “with a boy from Wisconsin,” Finley said.
“I was like, sure, I thought it was a good idea.”
In something of an understatement, Finley said, “It turned out pretty good.”
The two, fishing with boat captain Ray Barga of Benton, won by nearly four pounds over the second-place team of Austin Mourad and Micah Chessor of Reidland, who had a hefty five-fish total of 21-4.
The event was part of the schedule of state tournaments sanctioned by the SAF. The highest-finishing team from Kentucky earned an invitation to a regional tournament, the Southeastern Conference Championship, which sends its winner to the SAF/FLW High School Fishing National Championship.
The Southeastern Conference tournament will be Oct. 12 at Lake Lanier in Georgia.
Since the overall winning team Sunday consisted of student anglers from two states, the runner-up team of Mourad and Chessor received the invitation to the conference tournament.
Calloway teams swept third and fourth among 54 two-angler teams that competed in the event. Bracken Robertson and Dillon Starks netted 21 pounds even and Tyler Schanbacher and Jesse Vaught weighed 20 pounds, one ounce.
Colton Smith and Brenton Clemons (high school not listed) also had a catch weighing 20-1. Schanbacher and Vaught were awarded fourth place through a tiebreaker.
Logan Thomas and Chase Greer were the top-finishing team for Marshall County. They were seventh with a five-fish catch of 16-10.
Sunday’s event was also a part of the Bluegrass State Games. Finley and Oswald received gold medals. The Bluegrass State Games is a non-profit program to promote amateur athletics across the Commonwealth.
This is the first year for bass fishing to be sanctioned as a sport by the Kentucky High School Athletic Association. Sunday’s tournament was a state-level event under the SAF playoff structure, but does not count as the first KHSAA state bass fishing championship.
The KHSAA’s first official state tournament will be held April 26-27 at Kentucky Lake, out of Kenlake Marina in Aurora.
Four regional tournaments will be held prior to that, with the Region 1 tournament slated for April 12-13 on Lake Barkley, out of Kuttawa Harbor Marina.