Eldridge, Conway win Teen Anglers season opener at Lake of the Ozarks
John Neporadny Jr.
Osage Beach, Mo.—Although the Teen Anglers bass tournament circuit opened on the first day of spring, March 20 delivered a blast of winter weather to young bass anglers at the Lake of the Ozarks.
A field of 154 boats of high school and middle school anglers encountered freezing temperatures and a cold northwest wind during the morning takeoff. “It was really cold,” said Ozark High School angler Keeley Combs of her morning ride.
A cold front that passed through the lake area over the weekend slowed down the action on competition day but Mount Vernon High School anglers Clay Eldridge and Noel Conway managed to catch a five-fish limit weighing 19.95 pounds to win the high school division of the Teen Anglers event. Both anglers were fishing in their first high school tournament ever for the newly formed Mount Vernon team. The rookie competitors admitted when they practiced on Table Rock Lake the Thursday before the tournament it was the first time they had ever used bait-cast reels. Eldridge said the practice at Table Rock was the first time he had ever fished a large lake and Conway noted his practice session was the first time he had ever ran a trolling motor.
The Mount Vernon anglers overcame their inexperience and some missed opportunities to complete their limit about 15 minutes before they had to weigh in. “This morning we lost several fish,” Conway said. “I probably lost three or four 5-pound fish this morning. I just didn’t get the hook set right.”
They caught all of their fish on white spinnerbaits with double Colorado blades about 8 to 12 feet deep along secondary points. The winners caught a few bass in spurts during the morning, but the action picked up for them later in the day. “Once it stated getting a little warmer we started catching more of them,” Eldridge said.
The Ozark High School brother-and-sister team of Dalton and Keeley Combs finished in second place with a limit weighing 18.97 pounds. Dalton Combs won the Teen Anglers Championship last year, but his sister Keeley, who caught two Lake of the Ozarks keepers, was fishing in her first tournament.
Jerking pearl-and-chartreuse Megabass suspending stickbaits along bluff ends and in the backs of pockets produced all of the Combs’ keepers. “I threw it so shallow that I couldn’t reel down or I would get hung,” Dalton said. “So as soon as I threw out there I would start jerking. All of my fish came very shallow (about 2 to 6 feet deep). We mainly keyed on big rocks or pea gravel that had a little log or something out of the ordinary along the bank.”
Corbin Mertgen and Heath Renno of Lincoln High School never got a chance to practice for the tournament because they had a baseball game the previous day. However they still managed to take third place in the Teen Anglers event with a 16.43-pound limit. The Lincoln anglers finished fifth in last year’s Teen Anglers event at Lake of the Ozarks.
“Early on we worked switching back and forth between (blue/orange belly) jerkbaits and (white and chartreuse) double willowleaf spinnerbaits,” Renno said of their pattern. “We just worked them slow along banks pretty much all day.” He noted they caught two fish early, but then the action died the next four hours and picked up again the last two hours when the sun broke through the clouds.
Most of the fish they caught were holding about 7 to 10 feet deep. “We were just keying on small rock secondary points where the wind was blowing into the banks,” Mertgen said.
Gage Meadors of Logan-Rogersville won the middle school division while Logan-Rogersville’s Kendall Meadors took second place and Sterling Scott of Park Hill South finished third.
The tournament drew 306 high school anglers and 18 middle school contestants from 46 schools.
The next Teen Anglers tournament will be held April 17 at Table Rock Lake. For more details on the Teen Anglers circuit, visit www.teenanglers.net.