By Nick Simonson
It was a long trip to Lake Hartwell near Anderson, S.C. for brothers Brandon and Logan Bullinger of Century High School in Bismarck, N.D., but the time and effort put in competitively fishing bass in the Student Angler Federation’s High School Fishing league (highschoolfishing.org) and a North Dakota state title earned them a berth in the event held from June 30 to July 3 on the 56,000 acre impoundment. While Brandon, a graduating senior, and Logan, just completing his sophomore year, came up only ounces short of competing in the 10-boat finals on the last day of the tournament, the experience showcased their abilities to study water, find bass where others were not, learn about new lake types and species not available in their home state.
After winning the North Dakota High School Fishing state title for the second year in a row, the brothers jumped on the chance to appear at the 12th Annual High School Fishing World Finals & National Championship, which this year boasted its largest field ever with 400 teams from 41 states and two other countries, including Zimbabwe. After considerable research about Lake Hartwell and its population of spotted and largemouth bass, the pair pinpointed locations of primary and secondary points along the reservoir with sunken trees as go-to locations via contour maps, online resources and YouTube videos from the area. Having relied on the subtleties of finesse fishing on notable North Dakota bass lakes such as Nelson Lake, which was part of their local series of events, they turned to those tactics to find both species of fish on Hartwell.
“The main things that we were using were just finesse fishing, that’s our favorite way to fish and that’s about how we fish at every lake, so we were just fishing slow, trying to do what other people weren’t – instead of throwing crankbaits and things like that – we were fishing a little bit deeper, fishing slow with jigs and worms and keeping it finesse,” Logan relates as to what was the key to punching their ticket to the national event during the regular season.
The boys had two-and-a-half days to pre-fish Lake Hartwell running from Sunday to Tuesday at noon, ahead of the four main days of competition, and they wasted no time crossing the places off their map and locating likely spots for the tournament. In those deep trees of the reservoir they found their marks with their finesse tactics, with most success coming on warm sunny days. As other teams targeted the schooling spotted bass, the pair looked for largemouth that would help load their weigh-in bags when the event started. But as the weather shifted from warm, sunny and calm at the start of the tournament to choppier waters with a cool down for the back stretch of the event, the Bullingers adjusted their tactics as well.
“Our trees that we were fishing in deep, that’s the only way we could get them to bite was on super-hot sunny days, no clouds in the sky, and that was day one, when we had eight [pounds], 11 [ounces],” Brandon recalls, “and then day two we went back down to the spot and it was cloudy and a little colder and it even had rained a little bit, and we couldn’t catch a single fish off the spot, so we had to go to Plan B, and that was just junk fishing for largemouth, fishing some points for spots, and the same for day three,” he concludes.
Despite the shift, the Bullingers were in the thick of the competition ahead of the final day. Being one of the first ten teams to weigh their fish in the semi-finals on the third day of competition, the boys were not optimistic sitting in the bottom half of the rankings after their early registration. As more and more teams came in, however, the Bullingers hung on to a tenth-place position which would qualify them for the finals, with their three fish on the day weighing 7 pounds 6 ounces. It came down to the last team checking their fish at the weigh in to send the boys home early, as they dropped to 11th place overall at the event. Despite coming up short, the pair was long on good memories from the event and for Logan, excitement for what is to come in the balance of his high school fishing career.
“It’s going to motivate me a lot, that’s all I’m going to fish for now is to make the final day,” Logan comments, “now I’ve got my little brother as my teammate, so we’re going to give it a good try,” he adds.
The Student Angler Federation is open to high schoolers across the nation, and teams consist of two student anglers and an adult to chaperone and drive the boat. Schools and individuals can register and learn more about the program at higschoolfishing.org/getting-started.
Featured Photo: Bismarck’s Brandon (L) and Logan Bullinger represented North Dakota at the High School Fishing League’s World Finals & National Championship event, June 30 through July 3 on Lake Hartwell near Anderson, S.C. Photo Submitted.