The Berkeley High School Bass Club is sending a team to the BASS High School National Championship for the second time in the club's five-year existence.
Senior Grant Lusk and junior Cole Metts finished second earlier this month on Lake Murray in the South Carolina BASS Nation High School Series State Championship (schighschoolbasschallenge.com) to qualify for the national event in August that will be held on Kentucky Lake, a major reservoir along the Tennessee River in Kentucky and Tennessee.
The Berkeley duo had a five-bass limit that weighed 21.38 pounds and finished second to a team from South Florence, which had five bass weighing 21.52 pounds. Lusk and Metts also just missed out on the biggest fish with a 5.81-pound bass. The tournament's largest bass weighed 5.85 pounds.
"We knew what was at stake and we had a plan," said Lusk, whose father Kevin served as boat captain during the tournament. "We knew (finishing in the top two) was our only option to get to nationals this year. We finished fifth in the state last year and they took the top three teams. We got lucky this year."
There were some heart-stopping moments at the end of the day. With at least three fish in their bag that weighed more than five pounds, they pulled up to their last spot and the bass began schooling.
"I threw a topwater in the middle of it and after the first two pops a bass blew up on it. I was looking at him under the boat and he came off. I about lost it. It was at least six pounds," Metts said of a fish that not only would have been the big fish winner but also would have given them first-place overall.
That was followed by another scare. They had switched fuel tanks and couldn't get the boat to start because of an air lock in the fuel line. They began making phone calls, looking for assistance, but finally solved the problem and got the engine running again. They made the weigh-in with only a couple of minutes to spare. Had they been late, they would have been penalized one pound for each minute they were late.
Metts, who has teamed with Lusk for three years, said he was extremely nervous as other teams followed them to the weigh-in.
"People were getting close to us and I really wanted to go to nationals," Metts said. "You should have seen my face (when the weigh-in ended). I couldn't be happier."
The team is coached by George Brittle, a government and economics instructor who recently learned that the Berkeley County School Board has approved plans for an outdoors pursuit class for the 2019-2020 school year. He also coaches the school's skeet team.
"Right now we have about 14 students fishing out of seven boats. At one point we had 22 guys and 11 boats, but as jobs changed it got really hard to get boat captains for these kids. I could have 30 kids easily if we had enough people willing to take these kids fishing," said Brittle, pointing out that an adult boat captain is required for each two-person fishing team.
"Our first year of existence, we had a team qualify for nationals and finish ninth. There probably will be 200 teams fishing at Kentucky Lake. Our goal is to do better than that this time," Brittle said.
Among the perks at stake at nationals is a chance to win a full scholarship for bass fishing awarded by Bethel University. Lusk already has a partial bass fishing scholarship to Lander University.
So in addition to their classroom studies, the two also will be doing a lot of homework, watching YouTube videos and reading about the fishing on Kentucky Lake.
They'll also be trying to raise funds for the event. Brittle said he will do a lot of tree-shaking and passing the hat and if anyone wants to help they can contact him through the school at 843-899-8800.