A pair of teenagers who have fished together since they were knee-high to a grasshopper hooked up to win the inaugural Open High School Bass Tournament at Roosevelt Lake.
With the win on May 21, the home-town team of Kyle Randall and Cameron Geske advance to the High School World Championships July 18-23 in Russellville, Ark.
There, they will vie for a prize package worth thousands of dollars, including college scholarships.
The 2010 world champions from Meade County High School in Kentucky pocketed $32,000 in scholarship offers.
The Payson teens, who both graduated yesterday, May 26, from Payson High, are chomping at the bit to show their considerable fishing talents in the granddaddy of high school angling.
“We’re looking forward to it; we’re excited about going,” said Randall.
Neither of the Payson qualifiers has fished Arkansas’ Lake Dardanelle, where the tournament will be held, but both agree unfamiliarity should be no problem.
“We can pre-fish the lake before the tournament and we’re going to do that,” Geske said. “We are going to check out the deep-water bite.”
The schedule of events shows the qualifiers will be allowed to pre-fish on July 18 and July 19; a registration, check-in and briefing will be on July 20 and the tournament conducted July 21 to July 23.
What the two will find at the championships is that it is more than just a fishing tournament because qualifiers are required to pass a written test on angler ethics, boater safety and invasive species. The results of the tests add bonus ounces to their weights and can impact the final outcome.
A portion of the two Payson teens’ confidence they can do well in the championships stems from their first-place showing in the Roosevelt tournament where they out-fished a Phoenix team that last season finished second in the high school world finals.
That pair, Brandon Koon and Thomas Changer of Shadow Mountain and North Canyon High School, finished third in the Roosevelt tournament with 9.01 pounds of bass.
Randall and Geske won easily, weighing in with 12.43 pounds that included the winning big fish at 3.73 pounds.
While Randall and Geske are not the type of teens to brag about out-fishing the world’s second-best prep team, both only smiled when asked how it felt to whip the pair.
Peoria High’s Michael and Cody Nugent were second at Roosevelt with 9.77 pounds.
The Payson team’s strategy in winning the tournament was to “run and gun and look for the big ones,” said Geske.
The two agreed they could probably catch their five-fish limit of smaller fish, but decided to roll the dice and hunt for big fish with an exciting top-water strategy off main lake points.
Fishing Roosevelt was nothing unusual for the boys, who have tested the waters plenty of times with their fathers, Reese Randall and Scott Geske.
“We are pretty familiar with the lake and that helped,” said Kyle Randall.
For their win at Roosevelt, Randall and Geske each received customized sterling silver belt buckles worth $150 each, an Abu Garcia rod, Mitchell reel and a Canon digital camera.
The buckles were donated by Every Kid Counts Children’s Charity, which sponsored the tournament.
While Randall and Geske dominated the tournament, they were not the only Payson team to show well.
Of the top 15 teams, five were from Payson High prompting sponsors to declare the town of Payson owned tournament bragging rights.
From PHS, Keaton Duran and Travis Bix were fifth with 8.61 pounds and Tanner Purtill and Cale Novack eighth at 4.51 pounds.
Curtis Hallowell and Konner Duran teamed up for 4.46 pounds to take ninth. Ilyas Sekendari and J.J. Ward boated 3.73 pounds and took 10th overall.
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 were in the field.
With the win at Roosevelt in the rear view mirror and the world finals down the road, Randall and Geske are eyeing college, but hoping they might someday be able to fish professionally.
If that dream doesn’t come true, however, both are sure fishing will always be a big part of their lives.
“We will always fish, we were just raised that way,” said Randall.
The first-ever tournament has its roots last fall when Payson High School 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.
Heizer now says the tournament was not a one-person project in that a number of organizations joined in the effort to sponsor the event.
He cites the National Guard, Every Kid Counts, Circle K, Bass Pro Shops, Cabelas, Arizona Game and Fish, the Fish and Wildlife Service and FLW for their contributions.
Also the PHS Outdoor Conservation Education Club is involved, but Heizer stresses it is not one of the sponsors.
Heizer calls the angling fray, “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.”
Currently there are 76 youth fishing clubs in existence in the country, but most are based in the southeastern United States where bass fishing is a way of life and lakes and waterways are plentiful.
“Our goal is to bring these clubs to the Southwest,” Heizer said. “There is a lot of interest among the (Payson) high school students.”
Heizer and other organizers 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,” said Heizer.
The first step in beginning a Payson club and hosting the tournament was to invite Arizona professional fisherman Keith Espe and Brian Chamberlain of Every Kid Counts to visit PHS and talk to students.
The pair was on campus Dec. 8, 2010 speaking to teacher Jaydee Garner’s animal science classes.
Espe, of New River, won the FLW National Guard Western Series tournament held Sept. 22-25 at Roosevelt Lake.
Chamberlain is an official in the Every Kid Counts charity in Phoenix that has been dedicated to helping children in need for more than 16 years.
While Heizer has took the lead in hosting the tournament and forming the fishing club, he’s now soliciting help from others.
“Parents will also be huge in this,” said Heizer. “Once we get the ball rolling with this, we want to hand it off to parents.”
For more information about the club, call Heizer at (928) 474-2233.