Written by Samantha Gay
Tyler Baker of Snow Hill, and Caleb Speight of Jason, both twelve, are members of the Greene County Junior Fishing Rams, a junior fishing team founded and coached by Samantha Gay of Walstonburg. Gay also coaches the high school team, the Greene Central Fishing Rams. Since their start in 2017, the teams have competed in the eastern division of the N.C. Bassmaster Junior Series as well as in the Youth Educational Series. Baker and Speight won third-place in the Junior BASS Nation Series state tournament in May 2017. In October 2017, The NCTBF revamped its junior program, which qualified Baker and Speight to represent North Carolina in the 2018 Junior World Championship.
The boys and their support team were able to make the 1,000-plus-mile trek to Hot Springs, Arkansas for the tournament, all thanks to donations. The entourage included the two cousins, their parents and brothers, their boat captain Drew Collins of Raleigh, his daughter, and fishing team coach/advisor, Samantha. Caleb, Tyler, Maci, and Drew started their journey on Monday night. All involved also collected monetary donations and gear, including NCTBF President, Robert Griswold, and other NCTBF officers and members. Robert and the NCTBF covered the cost of lodging for all in attendance, as well. Baker and Speight are also sponsored by the Fishers For Kids Anglers Academy, a nonprofit organization Gay founded as means to provide the youth of Greene County with free fishing experiences and gear.
The team and their captain, Drew, arrived in Hot Springs late Tuesday evening, in Drew’s Toyota Tundra, hauling a new 2018 Bass Cat Eyra donated to the team to use for this event by Skyline Marine, of Wilkesboro, NC. Weather issues in the morning and mandatory off-limit times, left the guys with only a few hours to pre-fish. In that short amount of time, they were able to find some fish holding on wood in around ten feet of water. They also spent some of that time scanning the lake with the Humminbird unit installed on the Eyra, looking for ledges and areas that could possibly produce the most top-water action. The night before the tournament was scheduled to begin, a large low pressure front stalled over much of Arkansas, causing flood warnings to be issued for many areas, dumping a lot of fresh water in the local fisheries.
On Wednesday morning, after a thirty-minute delay due to thunderstorms and lightning, Caleb & Tyler and their captain, Drew, blasted off to fish the biggest tournament of their student angler career. Once they reached their first stop, they started their day by targeting laydowns while throwing a Texas-rigged creature bait, tied on to the Cashion M87372tjc, John Crews Signature Worming Rod. Around midday, the duo switched gear, and picked up the Cashion P8437s spinning rod, and began to skip docks with a Zoom trick worm screwed onto a shaky head. Once they changed techniques, the boys caught four fish, only one of which was a keeper. Despite the torrential downloads and occasional thunderstorms, Caleb and Tyler fished hard and never gave up. After being rained on for six solid hours, the clouds finally cleared away and the rain ended, with forty-five minutes left before check-in. On day one, Tyler and Caleb weighed in one largemouth bass, weighing 1lb, 10oz.
On day two, all youth anglers were greeted with a thick blanket of fog covering the water, which delayed blast off for three hours, giving all anglers only four hours and fifteen minutes on the water before the mandatory check-in time. Equipped with a new game plan, these guys were ready to go out and give it they’re all again, hoping to make up some major ground. Since the three-hour delay prevented them from having a shot at the early morning topwater bite, Drew decided to make the first run to a ledge they’d found during pre-fishing. The young anglers fished around the area using a Carolina-rig on the Cashion CR90676 Chadd Eriksen Carolina Rig Setup paired with a Lew’s Tournament Pro baitcasting reel, with a seventeen-pound Seaguar Abrax liter. The team caught two spotted bass on the first two casts of the morning, but only one was a keeper. They decided to make a move to a new spot about thirty minutes later, and fished deeper water and ledges for the rest of the day. By the end of the day, they had only six bites and caught three fish, only one of which was large enough to keep. At the day two weigh-in, the catches and weights of many teams were down, and there was a common issue that many experienced and mentioned. Anglers could see fish, but could not get them to bite, and if the fish did bite, they wouldn’t commit to it or were “short-striking.” Caleb and Tyler weighed in one spotted bass, which weighed in one pound, giving the young team a two-total of 2lb 10oz.
Unfortunately, Caleb and Tyler didn’t make the cut to fish the final day on Saturday. Only the top team from each of the five regions represented were able to fish. While it was a tough tournament for these two, they knew that they’d fished hard and left it all on the water, and were truly grateful to have had the opportunity to fish such an event. It was the experience of a lifetime, and will certainly serve as a catalyst for Tyler, Caleb, and Drew as they continue to compete and try to qualify for such an event again.
Caleb Speight (left) and Tyler Baker (right) with the dedicated boat captain, Drew Collins.
The Fishers of Kids Anglers Academy met for the second session at Pridgen Pond on May 10, 2016. Seventy-eight fifth grade students attended to fish with the help of sixty-one volunteers.
The Fishers of Kids Anglers Academy was formed with the main focus of getting more kids involved with the sport of fishing. The FOKAA will assist in civic organizations, forming new youth fishing organizations, & other charitable organizations in sponsoring events & functions which promote youth fishing. These events & functions will teach young people the sport of fishing, the ecology of the outdoors & the responsibility each person has in order to maintain our natural resources at no cost to kids. Your donations will be used to provide free fishing opportunities and gear to at-risk youth.