Bryce Blue needed a bass fishing partner, but there was just one problem.
His friendship circle at Sequoyah Mid-High School wasn’t exactly filled with angling connoisseurs, and given the sport’s tedious reputation, garnering interest was proving quite troublesome.
Desperate, Blue turned to principal Josh Berg for help.
Luckily, Berg knew the right guy for the job.
“He said Dakota Page loves to fish,” Blue said. “He hooked me up with him, and it just went on from there.”
The two were familiar with each other through extracurricular activities like football, and they bonded almost immediately over their love for long days on the lake.
“We like each other a lot more now, and we know what each other’s pet peeves are,” Blue said. “We have the same goal of becoming professional bass anglers.”
And it just so happened Page was an experienced bass fisher in his own right.
It was a match made in fishing heaven.
“I would say I was really experienced because I fished a lot with my grandpa when I was little,” Page said. “But that was more for crappie. When I was 10 or so, I started bass fishing and got knowledgeable over that.”
Fast forward two years, and the pair is entering its third-straight national competition.
Blue and Page begin their quest for the title early Wednesday morning in the 2019 SAF/FLW High School Fishing National Championship at Pickwick Lake in Florence, Ala.
The contest runs through Saturday, June 22.
The Rogers County Bass Anglers qualified for the event after placing second in the 2018 Bass Pro Shops FLW High School Fishing Lake Hamilton Open in Hot Springs, Ark., last fall with a five-bass haul of 10 pounds, 14 ounces.
Jay Morgan and Jackson Darr of Trumann High School (Ark.) won the contest, catching five bass weighing in at 15 pounds, 8 ounces.
Blue and Page also automatically qualified for the world’s largest open high school bass tournament, the High School Fishing World Finals, which is held in conjunction with the national championship.
This allows all anglers to compete for three full days. The second-chance round keeps everyone in the game until the fourth-day cut, much like other high school double-elimination competitions.
That is not even the best part, though.
The Student Angler Federation (SAF) recently announced that student anglers will compete for a share of a record $2.7 million prize purse offered at the dual event.
That is quite a significant increase from the more than $150,000 in scholarships awarded at the 2018 event.
According to HighSchoolFishing.org, the purse is a combination of college scholarships, cash scholarships and an array of other prizes. It is possibly the largest purse posted in the history of competitive bass fishing at all levels.
Bethel University (Minn.), Kentucky Christian University and Simpson University (Calif.) contributed $2.65 million of the pot.
All three academic establishments are considered to sport top-level college fishing teams, and they are using the event as a recruiting opportunity.
Page, who is entering his senior year at Sequoyah High this fall, is a perfect example of the kind of anglers those schools are interested in, and though he isn’t sure how he’d use his cut of the prize money, one university has already caught his attention.
“My dream college is Bethel University for fishing,” Page said. “That’s probably the go-to, but I haven’t quite decided yet.
“That’s a lot, and it would mean a lot if we could get some of that.”
Blue graduated from Sequoyah last month and plans to join the Rogers State Bass Fishing Club.
Of course, Blue and Page couldn’t have reached this position without their sponsors.
With the trip to Alabama nearing $2,000, the pair managed to raise the funds needed through the generosity of local businesses and fundraising events.
“We got most of it donated to us, so we didn’t have to pay that much,” Page said. “We did a car wash, we made posters and put them around town and we approached businesses to see if they’d like to donate.”
Sponsors include Nabatak Outdoors, Blackbeard Marine, Favorite Fishing Rods, Shimano, Big Bite Baits, Mega Chomp Lure Co., True Bass, Rapala, Denali Fishing Rods, Smart Baits, Phenix Baits, Swagger Tackle and PETE.
Blue and Page are out to redeem themselves.
The duo finished 36th of about 320 boats in the 2017 national championship during its first season as a team, but it couldn’t emulate that success last year, placing 166th of 330 boats.
A significant improvement appears to be on deck for the champion hopefuls, though.
During practice on Monday, Blue and Page caught their biggest bass since joining forces with a haul of 7 pounds, 1 ounce. Their previous high was in the low sixes.
With that kind of success only days before the competition, boat captain Daniel Smith is feeling optimistic about the team’s chances of a high finish.
Smith, a 25-year bass fishing veteran, operates the boat and moves it from spot to spot for Blue and Page.
“They had 14.5 pounds on three fish (on Monday), and at home, a lot of teams will have 14 or 15 pounds on five fish,” Smith said. “They’re on a pretty decent pattern, so we’ll see how it goes once the tournament starts.”
Having a seasoned pro aboard during tournaments is certainly an advantage for Blue and Page, especially the longer the days get.
Many people unfamiliar with bass fishing probably consider it a non-strenuous sport, but every time on the water is a mental battle.
Blue and Page spend up to 11.5 hours on the water at a time, and it takes a lot of dedication to stay focused on a singular task for such an extended period.
Anglers can sometimes go three or four hours without a bite, but that can all change in a matter of minutes.
One catch is all it takes to turn a bad day on the lake into a good one, which is why Blue says they must maintain sharp concentration even when desired results aren’t guaranteed.
“You’re definitely on your toes all the time,” Blue said. “You gotta be on the same wave because you gotta get the net and net the fish so you have that fish to weigh in. You and your partner have to be on the same page with techniques, electronics and stuff like that.”
Bass fishing also requires a healthy amount of discipline.
Blue and Page are routinely on the water by 5:30 a.m. and don’t return to shore until 4 p.m.
By the time many teenagers roll out of bed during the summer months, Blue and Page have already spent about six hours with their fishing rods.
Being an early riser is more of a requirement than a suggestion.
“Sleeping in is nice, but I’m a morning person,” Page said. “I’m not a night owl. I think that’s what makes me perfect for fishing. Whenever I go over to a friend’s house, I’m always the first one up. I’m up at 7 o’clock annoying everyone.
“I love waking up early, and I like fishing, so it makes me want to get up.”