Chad Champy and Kyler McKie, preparing for their senior year at Fox Creek High School, will have a blue-ribbon fish story to share with their neighbors and schoolmates in the months ahead, after spending a week in pursuit of bass in northwestern Alabama.
The pair of 17-year-olds from North Augusta, representing the North Augusta Fishing Team, hit the jackpot on the Tennessee River on the last day in June, completing a three-day haul of 14 largemouth and smallmouth bass totaling 57 pounds and 10 ounces – enough to win the national championship among high-school teams competing in the top teen event run by The Bass Federation and Fishing League Worldwide. The Champy-McKie harvest averaged more than four pounds per bass.
As part of the North Augusta team, they had punched their ticket for the national event via a first-place finish in South Carolina's state-championship tournament. That meant a week of fishing from a home base of Florence, Alabama, with 232 teams competing, from around the country. The winners spent most of their time near the town of Waterloo.
Champy said the duo's best fish of the week was his 7-pound, 13-ounce catch. All three days were hot, the first two were also windy, and the end result was a pair of trophies and $5,000 scholarships (along with bragging rights among teen fisherman from coast to coast).
Their boat captain, operating a 21-foot Triton, was McKie's dad, Tripp. The Fishing League Worldwide's announcement noted, "The winners caught their fish on ½-ounce black shaky heads. They started day three with Zoom Magnum Trick Worms in plum and red bug, but made a key switch to end the day on a strong note."
McKie said each day's haul included at least one 6-pounder, and one of the biggest challenges involved having "only one good spot to fish all week." The two, he said, were concerned they might drain the vicinity of its good-sized fish. Their first day was the best, with a haul of almost 24 pounds. The second day's production dipped to below 15, and the third day rebounded to almost 20.
Their coach, Sean Hall, confirmed that the tournament represented a strenuous workout, similar to what a baseball pitcher might face in the course of a full-length game. "People really don't understand. Most people can't get up at 4 o'clock in the morning every day for a week and fish 'til 3 o'clock in the afternoon," he said.
Their nearest competitors represented George Rogers Clark High School, in Winchester, Kentucky; Gordon Lee High School, Chickamauga, Georgia; Fannin County High School, Blue Ridge, Georgia; and Grand Rapids High School, Grand Rapids, Minnesota, in that order.
North Augusta's team, which does most of its practicing on Clarks Hill Lake (also known as Lake Thurmond) and Lake Murray, also had the 13th-place duo, consisting of Nathan Boatwright and Dustin Williamson.
"We're a team of 50 kids around the Aiken area," Hall said, citing Fox Creek, North Augusta and Midland Valley high schools, as well as Wardlaw Academy. "We fish any month of the school year."
The teens in action in Alabama were on the scene June 23-30, and the actual tournament went June 27-30.
Champy and McKie, by virtue of their first-place finish, have qualified for the Bassmasters national championship for high-schoolers, to be held Aug. 2-5 at Kentucky Lake, also on the Tennessee River, between Kentucky and Tennessee.