Out on the beautiful Pickwick Lake in Florence, Alabama, plenty of fisherman are reeling in their catches on a nice summer afternoon. But none of them are as excited as Kiefer students Jeremy Tolle and Garrett Hale, who just a few days ago, won the 2018 High School Fishing World Finals Championship with a limit of bass weighing 23 pounds 9 ounces.
“It’s still crazy,” Tolle told HighSchoolFishing.org earlier this week. “It’s almost like it hasn’t set in yet every time I look at the trophy or anything that brings it up it just blows my mind away,” Tolle said.
They walked away with a $28,000 a year for four year scholarship award to the top-ranked college fishing program in the country, Bethel University.
If that’s not exciting enough, the story of getting to that trophy is telling enough: Tolle and Hale came from 55th place on day one to be named 2018 World Champions.
“I’m pretty estatic; I’m still on cloud 9 right now,” Hale said. “I mean we didn’t even think we had a chance. But, on the way home the part that set in was that the decisions we made, they were the right ones.”
“We took it serious, we really wanted to have it sure,” Hale said. “But, it was kinda like a joke at the same time—I mean there were 384 boats. Our accomplishment was making day four and just trying to get to the top 30; I guess everything went right for us.”
In a separate interview with FishingWorld.com Hale recounted how it was their persistence that paid off.
“The key was just staying with it,” Hale said. “We only had 13 pounds the first day. We came in with 9 the second day, and we had almost 18 the third day. We found our fish late in the day [on day three], but we stayed off of them because we knew they’d probably be back there. We came in today and caught all of our weight in an hour and a half to two hours.”
The winning limit included a 7-plus largemouth that won Big Bass honors. That bass was the winning team’s second fish of the day. Tolle says he and his partner caught their fish in 20 to 25 feet of water on ledges with shell beds near the Pickwick Dam.
Their bait of choice was Tolle’s homemade 1-ounce brown/black football-head jig with a green pumpkin/purple twin-tail trailer. They committed to the heavy football jig because it allowed them to remain in contact with the bottom and create the kind of display that impressed big fish.
“It gets down, and it bounces off those rocks and helps get those fish to react to it,” Hale said. “You could tell when the fish were just starting to school up and get ready to feed because you’d barely feel them tap it – like they would barely have it on the edge of their lips. But when they would get schooled up, they would just hammer it. That 7-15 almost pulled the rod out of my hand.”
In addition to $56,000 in scholarships, the champions each received a $250 Cabela’s gift card, nearly 6ft tall World Finals trophies and 50-inch flatscreens and more.