Two Kansas high school fishing teams competed Saturday in the FLW World Finals on the Mississippi River at Lacrosse, Wis., both looking to take home a world title.
Neither earned the coveted top spot, which went to Landon Gramling and Tucker Veronee, of the Gilbert Bass Anglers club, with a three-fish bag of 9 pounds, 6 ounces. However, one of those teams came away with something almost as nice — an $80,000 scholarship offer.
Lenexa’s Ryder Mains and Mason Chapman put up a three-fish bag of 7 pounds, 12 ounces, to finish 12th in the final-day field of 31 teams, the final spot eligible to earn a four-year, $80,000 scholarship offer from Kentucky Christian University — $40,000 apiece to each angler.
"It was a grind, that last day especially," Mains said. "That second and last day, the sun seemed to have come out and I don't know if it was just about how the fish got super tight to cover or whatnot, but it made fishing really rough."
Chapman said despite the at-times difficult conditions, the anglers exceeded their own expectations for the tournament and were pleased with the way they fished.
"It's awesome," Chapman said. "I didn't think we'd place that high, and I'm so happy that we did. That was just awesome."
Just making it to the final day of the World Finals required Mains and Chapman to fish at the peak of their abilities for three straight days prior to Saturday. Even then, they had their challenges to contend with.
The Legacy Christian Academy juniors sat in the top 10 for all three days at the FLW High School Bass Fishing National Championship, which ran current with the World Finals event. After leading the field on Day 1, the pair dropped from first to third on Day 2 and then third to sixth on Day 3 as a result of a costly 3-pound penalty for being three minutes late to weigh-in after getting stuck behind a barge in a river lock while traveling back from their best spot of the tournament. Despite that costly penalty, Chapman said they went right back to that location during the World Finals seeking out the big fish.
"Our strategy was going in and trying to do exactly what we did on Day 1 (at the national event)," Chapman said. "We went in there with the exact same mindset and strategy."
He said the big fish just weren't to be found there for them Saturday as they hit the area hard with mainly junebug swimjigs.
Chapman added that the success the anglers saw throughout the national tournament, which ended Friday, was beneficial to the anglers on Saturday as they fought to claw their way back to the top.
"It's an awesome feeling," Chapman said of finishing Day 1 in the lead. "It's a great confidence boost to your fishing. It just helps you know that you're doing something right and you continue to grow."
The four straight days of fishing came as a welcome opportunity for the anglers after the coronavirus pandemic postponed much of their spring fishing season. Kansas in March shut down all of the K-12 schools in the state, meaning students had to finish the school year at home and missed a lot of the traditional events of the semester, such as prom and graduation ceremonies.
"I've been really missing tournament fishing during the coronavirus, but I've still been managing to get out plenty of times just preparing for those tournaments mentally and strategically," Chapman said.
After securing the hefty scholarship offers on Saturday, the boys had two sets of proud parents, as well.
"I'll tell ya, those two boys are just phenomenal together," said Randy Mains, Ryder’s father. "Obviously Mason, growing up fishing with his dad (professional angler Brent Chapman), and Ryder's won two state championships fishing on his own before he even started fishing with Mason. Their personalities, it's just rare to have two kids that get along so well and are so easy-going. They're going to be some hammers for a while, they're good anglers."
Mason’s father, Brent, got a front-row seat to watch his son compete this week. Chapman served as boat captain for the team all four days at Lacrosse, even though it meant sacrificing his own chance to compete in an FLW fishing tournament.
"I'd really like to thank my dad for taking the time to come up there," Mason Chapman said. "He had to skip out on the FLW's pro tournament (on Lake Chickamauga) that was going on to come up there, which I really, really appreciate. He was a great coach up there and I don't think we could've done what we did without him up there."
As for whether or not the young Kansas anglers will accept the scholarship offers to Kentucky Christian, they are still weighing their options. Mason Chapman said he is "definitely" considering attending the school, while Ryder Mains said he is also considering it but is waiting to hear if another scholarship offer might make its way down the rankings to them at the No. 12 spot.
"Another option I'm hoping presents itself is the Simpson University scholarships," Mains said of the Redding, Calif., university. "I think the top 10 or top eight get them, but the top eight get many other scholarship offers and I guess if they don't go to Simpson, it passes down the line. So there is the possibility that it could come down to us, and that's somewhere I would really like to go. It's at the top of my list."
In all, the tournament organizers offered out more than $3.2 million in college scholarships through the event.
Still, Chandler finish in top 25
Topeka angler Parker Still and his teammate Austin Chandler, of Ketchum, Okla., had a bit of a different path to make it to Saturday’s main event.
The T-Bird senior and his teammate finished Day 1 of nationals in a tie for 49th with a bag of 7-4. They jumped up to a tie for 26th on Day 2 with a 6-12 bag but failed to make the top-10 cutline for the final day. However, fishing in the second-chance round Friday, the pair put on their best performance of the week, tallying 10 pounds, 6 ounces, to win the round and clinch a spot in Saturday’s World Finals.
Still and Chandler were unable to crack the top 20 on the final day, however, finishing 21st with a three-fish bag of just 6-5.
"Started out really slow," Still said. "It was blue bird sky, post front, so we were expecting it to be a tougher day. Every day we brought in a limit, it was either cloudy or raining, so we knew the fishing was gonna be a little different. Took us a while to get our first bite, and eventually we found ourselves with a small limit.
"Decided since we had a limit, we’d go out and hunt for one big one. Unfortunately we never got the right bites and only made a couple-ounce cull to finish out the day. Caught all our fish flipping brush in five feet of water using a Kinky Beaver in the junebug color."
Despite not winning a scholarship offer like their Lenexa counterparts, considering the field for the World Finals began with 312 teams, a top-25 finish is nothing to sneeze at.
"Feels really good. Austin and I were very fortunate to have a great week on the river and fortunate to bring in a limit each day of the tournament," Still said. "Ever since I started fishing, I’ve always wondered what it would be like to make that final day, and it finally happened. The emotions and adrenaline you get once you take off on that final day is unreal.
"Definitely gotta know how to keep yourself calm while fishing on that final day, I’ll tell you that."
Still also thanked his sponsors for the support, which include Rockwell Security, K-Guard Gutter, The Shack, Skycom, Keitech and Fox River, among others.