Chase Serafin and Anthony Gilmore know they’ll soon face the country’s top student anglers on the unforgiving battleground of Oklahoma’s Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees, but they’re not intimidated.
Armed with ample experience from years of competing in the northern tournament trenches, the reigning Michigan state champions are gunning for the title on the sprawling reservoir in the TBF/FLW’s 2015 High School Fishing National Championship.
Set for April 25-26, the event pits the nation’s top 10 high school teams against one another in a battle for ultimate bragging rights and a $10,000 college scholarship.
“We know the competition is going to be really tough; we just want to do well and give the North some bragging rights,” says Gilmore, 19, of Livonia. “Winning would be unbelievable, especially since this is the first year for Milford High School’s fishing team,” adds Serafin, an 18-year-old senior from Highland.
While Serafin and Gilmore have participated in High School Fishing for several seasons, 2014 marked the first year their school had an official bass team. “A lot of people don’t even know this is going on, so it would be great to bring the title home and show them,” says Serafin.
He and Gilmore earned the right to represent the Milford Mavericks at nationals by claiming first place at the Central Conference championship on Lake Erie out of Huron, Ohio, last September. It was an emotional victory, given their decision to risk everything on a long run for clear water after a short, frustrating practice. “The water was churned up and muddy (close to the launch), so we kept running reef to reef until we found clear water,” Serafin recalls.
They ended up catching a nice bag by throwing Cruncher tubes around bass-holding boulders. Since they had no idea how the competition had fared, they made the long run back to check-in on pins and needles. As it turned out, their limit was enough to secure the win and earn the hard-fishing friends a shot at the national crown. “It felt really good that our gamble on running for clear water paid off,” says Gilmore.
Since then, they spent the winter preparing for the Grand Lake showdown. “We’ve done a lot of research,” says Gilmore. “I’ve looked at so many maps of the lake that it’s ridiculous. I even have a map on the ceiling above my bed, so it’s the first thing I see every morning when I wake up.”
While gearing up for Grand, Gilmore reflects on how his High School Fishing career helped prepare him for the big event.
“I’ve learned so much thanks to TBF, FLW and High School Fishing,” he says, noting that the experiences fueled a competitive fever he hopes will carry him ever further in the world of tournament fishing. “I started a bass club at my college, and I’m planning to fish some BFL events this summer as a boater. Next year, I hope to fish a few FLW Rayovacs and Opens, and see where this takes me after that.”
Serafin, too, is firmly hooked on the sport. After winning the conference final with Gilmore, he received a lucrative scholarship offer from Michigan’s Adrian College, which recently added a varsity bass fishing team and is looking for top sticks to help put its program on the map.
For now, however, both he and Gilmore know they have their work cut out for them in Oklahoma, where they’ll be tasked with breaking down massive reservoir structure and a host of potential winning patterns. “Grand Lake may be the Southern teams’ deal, but it’s new territory for us,” Serafin says. “I’ve never fished a lake that was anywhere close to it,” adds Gilmore.
Still, they’re confident their tournament experience and ability to throw a variety of presentations from swimbaits to jerkbaits will serve them well when the pressure’s on. “I’m confident we’ll do our best,” says Serafin.
Gilmore agrees, while predicting that a fine mix of adrenaline will no doubt be flowing freely by time takeoff finally arrives. “Tournaments are a rush,” he says. “I’m nervous, excited, and can’t wait to go fishing.”
Note: The Student Angler Federation’s High School Fishing program was developed by partners in fishing, The Bass Federation and FLW, the world’s largest tournament-fishing organization. It’s open to students in grades 9-12. For more information, visit: highschoolfishing.org