Shawnee Heights angler Parker Still has been winning fishing tournaments for years now, going back to his middle school days fishing against adult competition in the Kansas Crappie Club.
But when the now-senior T-Bird made the transition to high school bass fishing in 2017-18, he wasn’t sure if that experience would translate into success.
Boy, has it ever.
Still took second place in just his second bass tournament — the 2018 TBF/FLW state championship, of all events — and has since earned an honorable mention all-state nod from Bassmaster last spring. He took fifth place in October’s inaugural Big Bass Junior Championship at Billy Chapman Jr.'s new Anglers Inn Resort on the Pend Oreille River in Idaho.
But his latest feat may top them all.
Still partnered with Ketchum, Okla., angler Austin Chandler to net 18 pounds of bass this past weekend, March 7, at the FLW High School Open on Table Rock Lake in Branson, Mo. The win clinched a berth for both anglers in the FLW/TBF High School Fishing National Championship & World Finals from June 23-27 on the Mississippi River at Lacrosse, Wis.
The winning anglers of that event will then advance to the 2020 FLW Series Championship from Nov. 5-7 at Lake Cumberland in Burnside and Somerset, Ky., to compete as co-anglers and fish for the top prize of $30,000, in addition to each receiving a $5,000 scholarship to a school of their choice.
"I never thought I’d be where I’m at today, but over the past few years of bass fishing competitively I’ve always kept my head down and grinded," Still said. "I’m always listening and learning from other people. I try and spent as much time on the water as possible because it helps you learn a lot about the fish, even when you have a bad day or good day it always teaches you something.
"I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of great boaters/mentors since I’ve started in the sport and that has helped me a ton as an angler."
Still’s journey to the national championship has indeed been a unique one.
For starters, he’d never met his teammate until the week of the tournament.
"Well I didn’t plan on fishing it because I didn’t have a boater or a partner," Still said of the FLW Open. "Got to talking to the new Kansas BASS Nation youth director, Travis Burch, and he hooked me up with a partner which was Austin and Brandon Ackerson as the boater, who Travis actually fished with last year in the Bassmaster Central Opens."
For Chandler, the instant chemistry between the two made the experience unforgettable.
"It was definitely a different experience, but I got lucky to get a very skilled teammate who had the same interests as me," Chandler said. "It was pretty cool how we immediately clicked and started working together like we’ve known each other forever. I’m looking forward to fishing more with him."
Burch, who made the trip to Table Rock with the high school and college teams, was proud of the team’s accomplishments.
"Parker and Austin are both good sticks as we'd call them in the fishing world, with the drive to constantly get better on the water," Burch said. "They were both looking for a partner for this tournament, so knowing their personalities and the boater I knew they'd be safe, have fun and have a good chance to qualify for nationals."
Still said he got down to Table Rock on Thursday night and pre-fished Friday, but didn’t get to pre-fish that much Friday because the Washburn team of Thomas Heinen and Jake Brunton, who were competing in the college event that coincided with the high school open on Friday, was having boat issues. Still went to help them so they could get back on the water and finish out their tournament day.
"My boater and partner had a championship tournament on Grand (Lake) so they didn’t have any time to pre-fish either," Still said. "Got to talking to my boater and partner Friday night in our room at Rock View Resort — which is a great place to stay while you’re visiting Table Rock Lake — and we did a little research, which kinda gave us an idea of where to start tournament day."
They drew Boat 20 and ran up to the Kemberlin City area.
"Austin took the first cast with a 1/4-ounce jig head with a 3.8 Keitech on the back and smacked a good smallie that we ended up culling later," Still said. "Decided to stick with that bait choice the rest of the day and by 10:30 we had a limit and were culling our first fish.
"Austin and I had about 12 pounds and knew that wasn’t enough to win, but we were in the cut to make nationals. Decided to grind it out and fish spots we caught multiple fish on and we ended up sticking a few fish that ended up getting us to the 17-18 pound range. Austin stuck a good fish that culled and moments after I landed another good fish that ended up weighing just under 5 pounds."
Still said in total the pair caught more than 20 keepers and very few shorts.
"We knew we had a good pattern going and felt that what we were doing was the right thing," Still said.
Still also thanked his sponsors for allowing him the opportunity to fish the event, including K-Guard Gutters, Rockwell Security, Skycom, High Class Hanika, Hallas Construction, The Shack, Shark Sports and Fox River Rods.
But before they make their first cast in the national championship, Still and Chandler are looking to pair up for another open victory March 28 at Fort Gibson.
"Going for back to back," Still said.
After that, Still plans to compete alongside fellow T-Bird Connor Brees in the Kansas BASS Nation’s first spring high school tournament of the year on April 4, a state qualifier on Wilson Reservoir, followed by an April 19 state qualifier on Milford and finally the state championship tournament May 2-3 on Bone Creek.
Still said he’s been preparing for those final tournaments any way he can.
"Doing research on Navionics and Google Earth and going back to old notes I have from the past of the lakes we’re about to fish," he said.
A pair of Kansans took second place at the event, as well, with Kickback Club’s Garrett Torres and Sam Myers, both of Overland Park, netting 16 pounds, 9 ounces, to also qualify for the national championship.
"These two young men are also two great anglers from Kansas," Burch said. "Can't wait to see another angler from Kansas win a national championship. We've had some from K-State. Now time for high school. It proves that our youth programs here in Kansas are helping our anglers on a bigger scale."
Chandler’s Ketchum High School teammates Tyler Lake and Jesse Woodward finished fourth with 15-3 behind third-place Sam Webert and Kyle Hopping (16-7), of Timberland High. Carthage, Mo., anglers Colton Brust and Tristan Beck rounded out the top five with 14-2.
Other Kansans who weighed in at the FLW Open were the Basehor-Linwood teams of Kolby Gehl and Brayden Wilson (29th place, 3 pounds) and Colton Hutchinson and Owen Blackburn (32nd, 2-5). Ean Marlow and Cydney Hutchinson competed for Basehor but didn’t weigh a fish, as did the teams of Emma and Joey Batesel and Gage Greer. Buhler’s Nathan Fideldy and Alec Willm also blanked.
Shawnee Heights’ Parker Still, right, partnered with Ketchum, Okla., angler Austin Chandler to win the FLW High School Open event March 7 on Table Rock Lake in Branson, Mo. Still and Chandler had never met before the tournament. [Submitted]
Shawnee Heights angler Parker Still kneels down in front of teammate Austin Chandler, of Ketchum, Okla., with a chunky largemouth bass he caught while fishing in the FLW High School Open event March 7 at Table Rock Lake in Branson, Mo. [Submitted]