After the spray of their powerful outboard engines had laid down on the water, the anglers and their drivers stepped out of their boats and went to their final weigh-in. Once the bass were weighed, standing alone on the mountaintop of elite high school bass fishermen were Tucker Smith and Grayson Morris from Briarwood Christian High School in Birmingham, Alabama.
Seventeen-year-old Grayson Morris, who started bass fishing competitively in the fifth grade, said “When I was in the eighth grade, I heard about the Briarwood Christian School’s bass fishing team. I was really interested in becoming a part of that team and thought if I could compete in bass fishing throughout my entire high school career, I’d be a better bass fisherman.”
Morris learned that to compete he needed a partner; however, since he didn’t have a partner, he was paired with a senior who was already on the team. This young man took Morris under his wing and taught him everything he knew about bass fishing. At the same time, Morris’s dad, who really loved to hunt but also loved to bass fish, would take him out bass fishing.
“My parents always have been very supportive of whatever I’ve been involved in, and I know they’ve always got my back and support me in whatever I’m doing,” he said.
As Morris learned more and more about where to find bass and how to catch bass, he became more competitive. When Morris and his 2018 partner Tucker Smith arrived at Kentucky Lake, where the national championship would take place, they’d already decided to fish shallow water instead of deep water like they thought most of the other competitors would be fishing.
Morris said, “Tucker and I both felt that we had the most confidence in finding and catching bass in shallow water, no matter the time of the year and/or the weather conditions.”
These young men loved to fish jigs and bladed jigs in skinny water, so before the tournament, they began to study all the creeks on Kentucky Lake in Paris, Tennessee, where the national tournament would be held. During practice days at Kentucky Lake, they fished several different creeks and decided to start with the creek where they’d had the most keeper bites and to stay out of that creek until the first tournament day. They planned to spend the rest of the practice checking out other creeks that they might need to fish. If you know much about tournament bass fishing, you realize that many of the pros who’ve won the Bassmaster Classic have been willing to take huge risks that either have resulted in their winning or their losing the biggest bass fishing tournament in the world each year, the Bassmaster Classic.
“To reach the creek we wanted to fish, we had to cross a 500-yard flat that was only about a foot deep. So, we had to run our boat at about 70 mph to get on plane to ensure that only a small portion of the boat and the propeller on the motor were the only parts in the water,” Morris said. “We also had to mark the stumps and logs on that flat to keep from running over them and getting stuck. If the boat wasn’t on plane, we’d get stuck on the flat and have to spend quite a bit of time getting out of the boat and pushing it off the flat. The creek we were fishing only had about 2-1/2 feet of water in it, and it held a number of bushes and logjams.”
The air temperature on the first day of competition was 93 degrees and stayed in the 90s range throughout the entire competition. Because the weather was hot, a good number of the anglers were fishing deep ledges on Kentucky Lake, not the shallow creeks. One key factor to the anglers’ success was that Morris and Smith’s creek contained a spring with bubbling-up water about 10 degrees cooler than the surrounding water. So, every 20 minutes or so, they’d go to the spring and catch two to three, keeper-sized, 3-plus pound bass. On the last day of the tournament, Morris caught a 4-1/2 and a 5-pound largemouth there, although the water dropped about a foot the night before the final tournament day.
Morris and Smith primarily fished a watermelon Stanley Top Toad in the lily pads early, while Morris flipped a green-pumpkin, 1/2-ounce jig tipped with a black-and-blue Strike King Rage Menace split-tail grub inside the bushes later in the day. The team won with a total of 50 pounds, 2 ounces.
Morris said, “We worked hard to get to the national. This win was a big confidence booster, but it also a humbling experience, because we got to see all the other great anglers representing their schools and states.”
Learn more about High School Bass Fishing at https://www.bassmaster.com/high-school-bass-fishing.