The way John Lusk describes it, bass fishing is a game of chance and luck based on knowledge.
Lusk and his partner, Nate Stamper, had a little bit of all of those things on the opening day of last week’s High School Bass Fishing World Finals. The duo representing Columbus Christian were in second place out of 188 teams before finishing 45th.
“It was unexpected,” said Stamper, who will be a junior at Columbus Christian. “Second place out of 188 teams gives you a good confidence that you’re going to do better for the rest of the tournament.”
Lusk, who will be a sophomore at Columbus Signature Academy, had the catch of the tournament on that first day on Pickwick Lake in Florence, Alabama. His 9.1-pound bass ended up being the biggest fish caught the entire four days of the tournament, earning him the “Lew’s Big Bass” award.
Lusk and Stamper were presented new Lew’s reels in recognition of the award.
“It felt really good for two reasons: A, because it was a personal best,” Lusk said. “Then B, because it was the biggest fish of the tournament. Knowing that nobody caught a fish bigger than that one, it was very cool to experience that.”
As Lusk and Stamper waited on their fish to be weighed that first day, they saw other teams turning 6-, 7- and even an 8 1/2-pound bass. Lusk knew his prized catch was big, but not 9.1 pounds.
Lusk certainly didn’t know the big fish he caught was a huge one until he got it in the boat.
“The more you know, typically the better off you are,” Lusk said. “But sitting there looking at a depth finder, trolling around in a boat, you really don’t know that ‘Oh, yeah, that fish is a 9-pounder or that fish is a 1 1/2-pounder.”
Overall, Lusk and Stamper caught 21.2 pounds worth of fish in their five-bass haul that first day. The second day was a chance for teams to increase weight with their five best fish, but with the weight starting over at zero on the third day, or “Judgement Day,” they opted to fish in areas they thought would help them then.
Because the area was a river system, Lusk and Stamper fished mostly ledges on that second day. Locks allow water to flow, which creates bait fish, and bass sit up on ledges.
“In Indiana, you don’t have that opportunity to ledge fish in a river system, so we tried to learn because this is going to happen again next year,” boat captain Rod Stamper said. “So we were trying to learn and find new places and new techniques for them to fish. But once that wasn’t working, we went back to what we knew, which was shallow water.”
Unfortunately for Lusk and Nate Stamper, they were unable to add any weight, and they fell to 53rd. They made the consolation tourney, which was held on the third day.
That day, they caught a 10.8-pound haul.
“Fishing is strategy, managing your fish, and that’s what these guys tried to do,” Rod Stamper said. “Last year, we went out and tried to catch everything we could catch, and when it came to the last day, we had nothing left. These guys caught them, stayed away, fished totally new water, then came back and caught them again and just didn’t make the weight.”
Nate Stamper started the bass team at Columbus Christian last year, teaming with then-Columbus Christian student Jarrett Noble. When Noble transferred to Columbus North this year, he needed a new partner and found Lusk.
Last year, Nate Stamper and Noble finished 26th in the High School Bass Fishing World Finals.
“That’s deceiving because this was a much better year,” Rod Stamper said. “Even though the placement was worse, we still had a lot better chance of winning the whole thing. Last year, we did not have that chance. The placing and the weight sort of doesn’t show how well they really did mentally and strategically.”
Lusk and Nate Stamper qualified for the High School Bass Fishing World Finals by finishing 12th out of 33 teams in state tournament in April on Patoka Lake. They secured sponsorships from Silicron and Hoosier Air Transport, started a GoFundMe page and did a car wash to raise money for last week’s trip.
The pair endured boat trouble on each of the first two days.
“It’s such a mental game, you just cannot have a bad day mentally,” Lusk said. “Having a bad day catching fish is a given. It’s going to happen. But having a bad day mentally, there’s something you can do about that, and you have to learn how to harness that capability.”
Each of the three mornings they fished, Lusk and Nate Stamper were on the water from about 5:15 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. During the latter part of those days, temperatures reached as high as 98 degrees.
“It was a lot of work, but it was a lot of fun,” Lusk said. “Every day, it never failed, you came back home exhausted.”
Name: John Lusk
High School: Columbus Signature Academy
Year: Will be a sophomore
Name: Nate Stamper
High school: Columbus Christian
Year: Will be a junior
Sports: Fishing, basketball