Payson Anglers Struggle, But Az Team Wins Finals

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A middle of the pack finish wasn’t what Kyle Randall and Cameron Geske had their sights set on when the duo qualified for the National High School Fishing World Finals. But the Payson teens can take solace in the knowledge it was a pair of their Every Kid Counts Arizona Bass Busters teammates who won the tournament championship.

Randall and Geske, both Payson High graduates with the Class of 2011, traveled July 21 to Lark Dardanelle, Ark., the site of the world finals, hoping to hook a portion of the prize package worth thousands of dollars including college scholarships.

But the Rim Country teenagers came up short weighing in just three bass that tipped the scales at 7 pounds, 3 ounces.

On opening day they boated two fish that weighed 5 pounds, 14 ounces and on the second day caught a lone 1-pound, 5-ounce fish.

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Photo courtesy of Rory Aikens, Arizona Game & Fish

Young Arizona anglers showed their stuff at the world finals in Arkansas by winning the top honors. The team included Payson graduates Kyle Randall and Cameron Geske, at left in front, who only hit the mid-pack mark.

Their total weight earned Randall and Geske a 53rd place finish in the 102-team field of qualifiers.

Thomas Chambers, 18, and Brandon Koon, 17, also members of the Arizona Bass Busters along with Randall, Geske and Peoria High students Michael and Cody Nugent, won top honors landing a whopping 23 pounds, 15 ounces on the first two tournament days and a tournament record 19 pounds, 8 ounces during the third day championship round.

The Phoenix pair are no strangers to big-time competition, having finished second in last year’s world fishing finals.

For their 2011 win, the two pocketed $16,000 in college scholarships, $500 gift cards and laptop computers.

In the world finals qualifying field were high school teams from around the country, but predominantly the south and east where tournament bass fishing is a way of life and waterways and lakes are plentiful.

Payson High, however, is a Johnny-come-lately to the high school bass fishing scene.

It was only last fall that interest in forming a PHS fishing club and hosting a qualifying tournament at Roosevelt began circulating through the student body.

In December, PHS counselor Don Heizer hosted a meeting to see if there was enough interest among students to form a school bass fishing club.

At the meeting, 10 students signed up to participate and it was decided the first tournament would be held in the spring at Roosevelt Lake.

So, plans were laid for the inaugural Open High School Bass Tournament to be held May 21 at Roosevelt.

In addition to Payson High competing in the first-ever angling showdown, teams from Tucson Santa Rita, Snowflake, Peoria, Scottsdale, Apache Junction, Phoenix and Paradise Valley joined the field.

When the daylong fishing outing wrapped up, the three duos who would form the Every Kid Counts Arizona Bass Buster fishing team were named.

Randall and Geske, fishing their home lake, took the top spot on the team easily winning the Roosevelt tournament with 12.43 pounds.

Also joining the team were Michael and Cody Nugent who finished second at 9.77 pounds and Koon and Chambers, the third-place finishers with 9.01 pounds of bass.

Today, Heizer calls the first every PHS-hosted angling fray a success, but “more than just a fishing tournament — we had students who want to learn about what goes on at a weigh-in and how to safely handle fish so they are returned unharmed to the lake.”

Heizer and other organizers agree they were motivated to jump-start a local club because they staunchly believe that fishing is a sport that everyone can enjoy their entire lifetimes and it is a way to keep teens out of trouble.

“If we can get them on the lake, we will get them off the streets,” he said.

Plans are now being laid for a second high school tournament next spring with high hopes that another PHS pair will have a shot at showcasing their skills in the world finals.

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