provided by John E. Phillips
At the 2020 Mossy Oak Fishing Bassmaster High School Championship, Tucker Smith won his third National Championship with two different partners from Briarwood High School in Birmingham Alabama. Each of these three championships had from 200-300, two-man high-school teams participating in it. In 2020, Smith fished with Hayden Marbut, and the team brought in 47 pounds and 5 ounces of bass. The tournament was held on Kentucky Lake.
What type of equipment were you and your partner Hayden Marbut using to win the 2020 Mossy Oak Fishing Bassmaster High School Championship?
When I was fishing a top-water lure, I’d fish with a 6’10” TFO (Temple Fork Outfitters) Tactical Elite top-water rod. It was a shorter rod than the rod I’d used to fish a lipless crankbait. The shorter rod gave me more room to work the top-water lures in a walk-the-dog type of retrieve. This rod also had a lot of bend in the tip and loaded-up really tight when you cast it. One big advantage to this rod was that when the bass jumped, the rod had enough bend to give the lure to the bass, so the fish didn’t throw the lure. I also kept the tip of my rod in the water to try and keep the bass from jumping. When I was fishing the top-water lures, I used a remake of the Vixen lure originally made by Teckel, known today as the Reaction Innovations Vixen; a Whopper Plopper; a Zara Spook, and a Livingston Lure Walking Boss Spook. When I fished the lipless crankbaits, I was casting a 7’3” medium-heavy weight Tactical Elite rod made by TFO. My reel was a Shimano Chronarch MGL. My line was a 15-pound Seaguar InvizX Fluorocarbon Line.
What was the biggest bass that you and Hayden caught?
Hayden caught the biggest bass in the tournament, a 7-pound 5-ounce largemouth. Although I’ve won three Mossy Oak Fishing Bassmaster High School Championships, my partners have been a major reason for my wins. In this tournament, we earned extra money for having the biggest bass in the tournament - the one Hayden caught. Hayden went to Briarwood High School with me, and I fished with him last year (2019) because my other partner Grayson Morris, with whom I won a Championship, graduated a year ahead of me and received a fishing scholarship to the University of Montevallo. I was lucky to get a great angler like Hayden to fish with me in this year’s National Championship.
To demonstrate how important a good partner is, on day 1 of the tournament, I caught three keepers, and Hayden caught two, including the biggest bass of the tournament. On day 2, he got three keepers and I caught two, and on day 3, we both caught four pounders. No one wins a Mossy Oak Fishing Bassmaster High School Championship by themselves. It’s a partner tournament, and each partner plays a role in winning the championship. I’ve learned that when you have a partner who fishes as hard as you fish and tries to win as hard as you do, then that’s what makes a good team.
The day that Hayden caught the 5-pounder was one of those dream days that you could have in the tournament. We didn’t catch any bass on the spots we’d marked to fish, but we kept fishing down this flat. I noticed a little hole in the bottom of the flat, and Hayden cast to that spot and caught the big bass. Then we caught four more keeper bass from that one spot - 22 pounds of bass in five casts. We finished in first place on that first day. I looked at the spot, and there was just a little indention in the flat that instead of a hole appeared to be just a small hard spot on the bottom. Those bass were stacked up on that one place. The strange thing about that spot was that Hayden caught the big largemouth there, and the rest of the bass we caught there were 3-4 pound smallmouths. After we had landed our fourth fish, I looked at my watch, and we’d only been fishing that spot for four minutes with our top-water lures. We caught that limit of bass before 8:30 a.m.
What did you do the rest of the day?
We went on a practice expedition - looking for other places where we might catch bass during the tournament. We felt confident that we had the best limit of five bass that we could catch in our live well. We also realized that the site where we caught all those bass was probably the money spot that we could fish the rest of the tournament. We believed that the bass would come in and replenish that area every day. We didn’t fish at any of our other spots that we had planned to fish because we wanted to save them for day 2 of the tournament.
Did you return to that honey hole on day 2?
Yes, we did, and we caught three big bass first thing in the morning in that same spot. We caught four, big bass, including two, 4-pounders and one, 3-pounder off that same spot. We believed that the shad were blown into that hard spot because the wind was so high on that second day, and the bass were stacked in there in the early morning to feed on those shad.
What happened on the third day of the tournament?
I didn’t really think that the officials were going to let us compete on that day because the waves were so high at the mouth of the marina. When we went to the first place we’d intended to fish, I could tell that the wind had created such bad conditions that we couldn’t fish that region. So, we went to the spot we’d found in practice that we thought would be out of the wind. When we arrived there, a giant mud line had formed, and the bass weren’t biting at all.
Once the wind slacked off, we went back to the spot where we’d caught our limit on day 1, and where we’d caught three, good, keeper bass on day 2. We caught one, 4-pounder and then left the spot hoping it would replenish. Later we returned and caught another 4-pound bass before fishing some other places. Then we went back to our honey hole, and I hooked a 4-pounder that came off my lure before I could get it off the hook. That was the only bass that Hayden and I missed during the entire tournament. Those were the only two bass that we caught that day, and at the weigh-in those two bass weighed 8 pounds. We won the tournament because we were 10 pounds ahead of the second-place finishers for the first two days. After the first day, we were leading the tournament by 10 pounds. At the end of the second day, we were still leading the tournament by 10 pounds, and at the end of the third day we still led the tournament by 10 pounds.
What all have you and your partners won over the last three years of competing in the Mossy Oak Fishing Bassmaster High School Championships?
Over those last three years, we’ve won an aluminum Triton bass boat and motor valued at over $20,000, and we both won $28,000 scholarships to Bethel College. I can’t use that scholarship because I’m going to Auburn University, but Hayden may use his scholarship to attend Bethel. In this last tournament, we won $200 for having the biggest fish in the tournament, and we won $875 for the biggest bag of fish in the tournament. Our first day bag of bass weighed 22 pounds and 2 ounces, which was the biggest bag of the tournament. The value of what we won, including the scholarships, is around $70,000-$80,000, and we won about the same thing in all three national championships. Except for the scholarships, the money goes to help support our high-school fishing team.