When Bryce Moder researched Lake Hartwell ahead of the Abu Garcia Bassmaster High School National Championship presented by Academy Sports + Outdoors on Lake Hartwell, he thought he and partner Reece Keeney would be fishing strictly for spotted bass in deep water.
Little did he know it would be the duo’s Wisconsin roots that would carry them to victory.
With a three-day total of 43 pounds, 1 ounce, the Northeast Wisconsin Bass Club anglers claimed the prestigious title, with each angler earning a $2,500 scholarship in the process. After placing 14th on the first day with 13-5, the now high school graduates took over the lead on Day 2 with a 16-12 sack before landing 13-0 the final day.
“All the hours in the boat have paid off,” said Keeney, a member of the 2022 Bassmaster High School All-State Team presented by Academy Sports + Outdoors. “I can’t thank my dad enough for teaching me everything I know. To this day he sits in the bottom of the boat no matter the weather.”
“This is so special,” Moder added. “I just can’t be more thankful and I appreciate the good Lord. This is definitely a blessing. I never expected to come here and fish Wisconsin-style and catch largemouth. It was so rewarding. It is my favorite type of fishing.”
With the exception of one spotted bass on the first day, the Wolf River system natives brought all largemouth to the scales this week. Keeney and Moder picked apart about a mile of vertical clay bank that had brush, current and, most importantly, bait.
One particular section of that bank with an overhanging tree as the predominant cover produced their biggest bites each day, including a 5-pounder Friday afternoon and another 5-pounder with 20 minutes to go on Championship Saturday.
“The key to the week was there was bait in the area,” Keeney said. “The boat was sitting in 15 feet of water and we were throwing up to about 8 feet. Early in the week, the water was low so you could skip a swim jig up under the trees but the water came up so we switched to the Horny Toad. But I feel like there was so much bait and the fish kept reloading on those banks.”
The first two days of the tournament, Keeney and Moder got off to quick starts. But on Championship Saturday, the early-morning bite was nonexistent.
“It was superslow,” Keeney said. “We struggled all day. We probably didn’t get a limit until 12 o’clock. Then we just kept culling.”
Despite the slow start, Moder said they knew the bass were still there, they just had to keep their baits in the water.
“They would eat eventually,” Moder said. “We didn’t know if the current or sunlight was going to affect them, but it just panned out and we put our baits in the right spots.”
As he watched the topwater bite go down, the team’s boat captain Josh Keeney was amazed by what he was seeing.
“Watching those fish eat that Horny Toad, when the 5 and 6-pounders eat it, it is like throwing a bowling ball from a pine tree,” Josh said. “They get so aggressive and angry. It was fun to watch.”
Keeney began his first semester at Kentucky Christian University this week, missing the majority of practice to attend his first classes. As a member of the KCU fishing team, Keeney said he thinks this will give him a lot of momentum heading into the college ranks.
“It gives me a lot of confidence just knowing I can compete at the top level and win,” he said. “To go into college with an open mind and knowing I can compete is key.”
Moder has started his career as an operating engineer, but he is thankful for his time fishing the High School Series.
“This is my last tournament and I’m going out with a bang,” he said. “I never once dreamed of it. Going out with a National Championship is something else.”
Using a couple of their Lewis Smith Lake techniques, Brady Vest and Brody Hopper from Alabama’s Cullman High School finished second with 38-11. With bags of 13-13, 12-15 and 11-15, the duo claimed $2,000 in scholarships each.
“It was an amazing week,” Hopper said. “The second day hurt us, but it was a good week.”
On Day 1, Vest and Hopper found fish under the walkways and had a productive day throwing a shaky head. But as Day 2 progressed they discovered they would need another pattern to make the final day.
“The second day they weren’t under the walkways,” Vest said. “We had to find something else. We found a school of baitfish and started dropping on them and caught 12 pounds doing it.”
Fellow Alabama anglers Chris Fallon and Briar Dodson finished in third with 38-2 with bags of 13-0, 14-11 and 10-7.
“It means a whole lot to me to even make it here,” Dodson said. “I think Alabama is truly the hardest state to qualify in. Chris and I fished a state championship in 100-degree weather and we made it.”
The Gardendale High School anglers fished a railroad bridge all three days of the tournament that they discovered had quality bass holding in 4 to 8 feet of water during the last hour of practice. The presence of bluegill and bait fueled the bite and they were able to catch most of their bass using a Roboworm.
“We talked to a bunch of people at weigh-in and they mentioned the full moon had some of the bream spawning,” Dodson said. “There were several bream around the bridge.”
On the final day, they were forced to scramble and fish new water, catching a big one in the last hour to improve their bag.
Chase McCarter and Ty Trentham of Sevier County High School finished fourth and took home the $2,000 Hunter Owens Memorial Scholarship for Big Bag of the Tournament with their 17-15 Day 1 limit.
Along with a ninth-place finish, Destin Morales and Samuel Cobb Jr. from Livingston Parish High School claimed $200 in scholarships for the Big Bass of the Tournament, a 7-8 largemouth they caught on Day 1.
(BOATER) Standings Day 3
Angler Club/School Pts
1. Reece Keeney – Bryce Moder Northeast Wisconsin Bass – WI 0
Day 1: 5 13-05 Day 2: 5 16-12 Day 3: 5 13-00 Total: 15 43-01
2. Brady Vest – Brody Hopper Cullman High School – AL 0
Day 1: 5 13-13 Day 2: 5 12-15 Day 3: 5 11-15 Total: 15 38-11
3. Chris Fallon – Briar Dodson Gardendale High School – AL 0
Day 1: 5 13-00 Day 2: 5 14-11 Day 3: 5 10-07 Total: 15 38-02
4. Ty Trentham – Chase McCarter Sevier County High School – TN 0
Day 1: 5 17-15 Day 2: 5 08-11 Day 3: 5 10-15 Total: 15 37-09
5. Evan Wood – Spencer Lovett Mt. Pleasant High School – TN 0
Day 1: 5 08-02 Day 2: 5 16-10 Day 3: 5 12-06 Total: 15 37-02
6. Nathan Reynolds – Luke Malik Backwoods Bassin’ – TN 0
Day 1: 5 12-12 Day 2: 5 13-00 Day 3: 5 11-05 Total: 15 37-01
7. Braci Ault – Brody Ault Frontier – IN 0
Day 1: 5 12-12 Day 2: 5 12-06 Day 3: 5 10-00 Total: 15 35-02
8. Peyton Sorrow – The Eagle Eye Anglers – SC 0
Day 1: 5 13-06 Day 2: 5 12-08 Day 3: 5 08-04 Total: 15 34-02
9. Destin Morales – Samuel Cobb Jr Livingston Parish High School – LA 0
Day 1: 5 17-13 Day 2: 5 07-10 Day 3: 5 07-02 Total: 15 32-09
10. Dylan May – Brady Westrich Brownsburg High School – IN 0
Day 1: 5 10-03 Day 2: 5 16-02 Day 3: 5 05-14 Total: 15 32-03
11. Ely Hagans – Cole Pennington Southside Bee Branch – AR 0
Day 1: 5 14-13 Day 2: 5 10-03 Day 3: 5 05-15 Total: 15 30-15
12. Kasey Ferguson – Jakari Thomas Ringgold Bassin – VA 0
Day 1: 5 15-02 Day 2: 5 12-05 Day 3: 0 00-00 Total: 10 27-07