Carey, Kauffman conquer Hartwell to win High School National Championship - Major League Fishing
Carey, Kauffman conquer Hartwell to win High School National Championship
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Carey, Kauffman conquer Hartwell to win High School National Championship

Image for Carey, Kauffman conquer Hartwell to win High School National Championship
Pennsylvania's Trent Carey and Josh Kauffman won the High School Fishing National Championship with 29-15 across three days on Lake Hartwell.
June 21, 2024 • Mitchell Forde • High School Fishing

ANDERSON, S.C. — On one hand, Trent Carey and Josh Kauffman knew how difficult it would be to top a field containing 249 of the country’s best teams at the Abu Garcia High School Fishing National Championship. As Carey said on stage Friday, “that just doesn’t happen; you don’t get these opportunities.” 

But as the Fishaholics team made the drive from their home in Pennsylvania to Lake Hartwell earlier in the week, they had a feeling they could contend for the title. In fact, Kauffman set his sights on winning not only the National Championship but the accompanying World Finals, a concurrent event held by the Student Angler Federation. 

“To our knowledge, I don’t think anybody has ever won nationals and worlds,” Kauffman said. “And coming down here, I thought to myself, you know what, that’s our goal. I want to win both.” 

Carey and Kauffman are halfway there. The two recently graduated seniors punctuated a strong three days on Hartwell with a three-bass limit weighing 9 pounds, 3 ounces. That brought their three-day total to 29-15, 1-4 clear of Lanier High School’s Angel Cornejo and Bryson Dover.  

For the win, Carey and Kauffman earned $5,000 apiece in college scholarship money plus entry into the Toyota Series Championship on Wheeler Lake in November, where they will compete as co-anglers. 

“I wish I could put it into words, but I can’t comprehend that we just did this,” Carey said. “It feels amazing that all the hard work paid off.” 

Carey and Kauffman’s optimism about contending on Hartwell sprang from the last time the famed fishery hosted the National Championship and World Finals, in 2021. Freshmen at the time, they finished 13th in the World Finals and fell in love with the lake. They’ve returned to fish it every summer since. 

The knowledge gained during those trips proved invaluable this week. They arrived at Hartwell with a sizable stash of offshore waypoints, then added more during practice. With 437 boats on the water between the two tournaments, having so many spots at their disposal came in handy. 

“With a 400-plus boat field out here, there are people on a lot of spots 24/7,” Kauffman said. “So, running down the lake, you’re like, ‘Oh, they’re there, they’re there. Oh, this spot is open.’ So, just having a large amount of spots to fish really helped. Just running waypoint after waypoint after waypoint all day long; eventually ran into the right ones at the right time when they’re schooling, actively feeding.” 

A 9-3 limit of spotted bass on Day 3 was enough for Carey and Kauffman to protect their lead.

Carey and Kauffman spent all their time offshore targeting brush and humps. While they weighed four largemouth compared to two spotted bass across the first two days of competition, Friday’s bag was all spots. They used “traditional herring baits” to catch them, rotating between a chrome Sebile Magic Swimmer, a flutter spoon and a rising bait. They only caught one fish they weighed on a fluke, but the Hartwell staple produced their biggest bass of the week, a 4-11 spot on Day 1. 

That fish anchored a 12-2 opening-day bag, which had Carey and Kauffman in second place (although they thought they were leading at the conclusion of weigh-in due to a clerical error that excluded a 12-8 limit from the National Championship results). Despite losing a “giant” when a treble hook pulled off a split ring, they added 8-10 on Day 2 and climbed into the lead. 

Friday, while most of the field reported a slower bite, Carey and Kauffman arrived at their starting spot to find fish actively feeding. While Carey said their bite wasn’t fast and furious, it didn’t take too long to put a similar limit to the previous day in the livewell. Then, around noon, Carey caught a 2 3/4-pounder, which culled a 2-pounder. At that point, the teammates let themselves believe they might actually be national champs. 

“Whenever we caught that one, we both just kind of looked at each other, and we were like, ‘dude, I got a feeling,’” Carey said. “I’m always the most nervous person, the most down person, ‘we’re never going to win.’ And we kind of just looked at each other, and we’re like, this feels right. This feels like it might happen.” 

Carey and Kauffman both plan to continue their fishing careers. Carey will join the accomplished team at Lander University in the fall, while Kauffman plans to keep competing in the Phoenix Bass Fishing League. Topping such a massive field should send both off with a shot of confidence. 

“It’s a huge jumpstart to any career winning a tournament of this caliber, winning a tournament with this number of boats,” Carey said. 

For now, though, their sights are set on achieving the goal they had in mind upon arriving at Hartwell – closing their high school careers with both National Championship and World Finals trophies. With weights zeroed, they’ll compete against 30 other boats for the World Finals title on Saturday. Kauffman is bullish on their chances, noting that they’ve had the bites each of the past two days to match their 12-pound total from Day 1. 

“We’re one step closer,” Kauffman said. “Every day, we’ve had the opportunity. … We just have to capitalize tomorrow. So, we’ll see what happens.”