High School National Championship underway on Hartwell - Major League Fishing
High School National Championship underway on Hartwell
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High School National Championship underway on Hartwell

Image for High School National Championship underway on Hartwell
Lake Hartwell will serve as the battleground for the 2024 Abu Garcia High School Fishing National Championship. Photo by Rob Matsuura.
June 19, 2024 • Mitchell Forde • High School Fishing

ANDERSON, S.C. — The top high school anglers from across the country (and even a few representatives from Canada and South Africa) blasted off on Lake Hartwell Wednesday morning for the Abu Garcia High School Fishing National Championship. Come Friday afternoon, one duo will be crowned winners of the nation’s premier high school event. 

The top 10% of finishers from each Abu Garcia High School Fishing open plus each Student Angler Federation event over the course of the past year qualified for the no-entry-fee national championship. Teams will compete with a three-bass limit each day, with the Top 10 making the Day 3 cut and the highest cumulative total across all three days of competition earning the trophy. 

In addition to the hardware and college scholarships on offer, the winners will earn entry into the Toyota Series Championship on Wheeler Lake in November, where they will compete as co-anglers. To have a shot at the top spot, teams will have to piece together a winning formula on a lake that, while chock full of bass and tournament history, can be tricky this time of year.

Multiple ways to attack Hartwell

Hartwell has served as a regular stop for the High School Fishing tournament trail, including hosting the national championship in 2021. Gerald Brumbaugh Jr. and Hunter Klotz of Pennsylvania’s Central High School won that event with a three-day total of 28-13, which they caught burning Sebile Magic Swimmers high in the water column around offshore brush and cane piles. 

Bass Pro Tour angler Casey Ashley, who lives near Hartwell and won a Bassmaster Classic on the fishery in 2015, expects the offshore, forward-facing sonar bite to be a factor this time around, too. But he’s not sold that it will represent the winning pattern — at least, not on its own.

Ashley said competitors will be able to choose between fishing shallow, where they stand a better chance of catching largemouth, and targeting spots offshore. He thinks it will take a blend of the two strategies to win.

“It’s got a great population of spotted bass and largemouth,” Ashley said of Hartwell. “I do think whoever wins will figure out how to do a little bit of both. But being that it is three-fish limit, I’ll say the shallow deal is going to play a lot more.” 

In 2021, the last time the national championship took place on Hartwell, Gerald Brumbaugh Jr. and Hunter Klotz won by targeting spotted bass around cane piles. Photo by Hunter Rud

Ashley said Hartwell is currently in transition. The bass spawn is well in the rearview, and the blueback herring — the lake’s primary forage — finished spawning about a month ago. However, the herring aren’t in their full-blown summer pattern yet, which could hamper the offshore bite.

As a result, Ashley expects to see shallow, dirty water as well as shoreline cover like docks play in this event along with the standard brushpiles, cane piles and clay points. In the shallows, he thinks topwater baits could be key each morning, with anglers turning to jigs and finesse tactics like wacky rigs and shaky heads as the sun gets higher. Offshore, expect to see lots of spinning rods with drop-shots, shaky heads and jighead minnows.

“The lake gets a lot of pressure these days,” Ashley said. “There’s probably a tournament this big or bigger every weekend on Lake Hartwell. So, you’ll need finesse-type stuff.”

Ashley thinks the three-fish limit will benefit the shallow-water anglers, as they aren’t likely to get as many bites as those fishing offshore but could stand a better chance of tangling with big largemouth. Finding 4-pounders should go a long way; Ashley said 12 pounds per day would be “phenomenal,” and he expects a the winning average to be a bit shy of that.

“If they want to shallow fish, they’re going to figure out an area of the lake that has big ones up, and being that it’s a three-fish deal, you don’t have to hurt those fish day in and day out; you can catch three of them and leave,” Ashley said. “So, you could absolutely win the tournament doing that. But I’d say the guy that’s going to win is going to find a place where he can run in, catch one big largemouth, and then probably fill his limit out with 3-pound spots.” 

About the event

  • The High School Fishing National Championship and World Finals – two separate events – are being held concurrently. Every team in the National Championship field is also competing in the World Finals, which is held by The Bass Federation’s Student Angler Federation. The Top 10 teams in the National Championship standings through two days will duke out the title on Day 3, while the rest will return to the water to try and qualify for Championship Day of the World Finals. On Sunday, weights will return to zero, and 31 boats will compete for the World Finals trophy.
  • Between the two events, more than $3 million in college scholarships and prizes will be awarded to competitors. 
  • Teams consist of three people per boat: Two high school anglers and one adult boat captain/coach. 
  • Takeoff is at 6 a.m. ET each morning from Green Pond Landing and weigh-in will start at 1:30 p.m. Watch weigh-in live at highschoolfishing.org and keep up with coverage throughout the event at MajorLeagueFishing.com.