Piescher and Semler take High School National Championship with 32-7  - Major League Fishing
Piescher and Semler take High School National Championship with 32-7 
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Piescher and Semler take High School National Championship with 32-7 

Image for Piescher and Semler take High School National Championship with 32-7 
Zachary Piescher and Cole Semler won the 2023 High School Nationals. Photo by Matt Hogan. Anglers: Zachary Piescher, Cole Semier.
June 23, 2023 • Erik Gaffron • High School Fishing

LA CROSSE, Wis. – Swapping boats with the camera crew isn’t how the winners of the 2023 High School Fishing National Championship thought they’d make the win of a lifetime, but now Zachary Piescher and Cole Semler have a story and a trophy unlike any other.

After three days of competition and whittling the field down from 256 boats to the final 10 competitors in La Crosse, Wisconsin, new national champions have been crowned. The anglers from Minnesota’s Isanti-Cambridge Blue Jackets were finally able to have a bit of relief after a trying event on the Upper Mississippi. The team’s three-day total of 32 pounds, 7 ounces edged out Day 2 leaders Carter Pjesky and JD McBroom of Kaneland, Illinois, by a mere 5 ounces to claim the National Championship title.

“I mean I’ve been stressed all day,” Piescher said. “It’s been a stressful tournament, we’ve had a lot of problems. We kept going at it and we’ve pushed through. We just kept making it, and it kept working out.”

The team from east-central Minnesota has had a variety of roadblocks in their path to overcome in order to make it to the final day, let alone to be in a position to win. After dropping a solid 9-13 on the scales on Day 1, their Day 2 went less than smooth as a variety of setbacks hindered them throughout the day. Close calls while boating, a broken fuel pump, and managing the lock schedule all made for a turbulent time, but the pair were able to scrounge up 11-14 and put themselves in real contention for the title just 1-6 back from Pjesky and McBroom.

“For the past three days it’s been the most adrenalin I’ve ever had,” Piescher said. “Problems come with the good and the bad. We had a couple close calls out there, and then we win this when we weren’t expecting to get first – maybe second or third or whatever.”

The final day of competition got off to yet another rough start for Cambridge-Isanti as their fuel pump continued to throw a wrench in their tournament plans. Virtually dead in the water, help came from an unlikely source as camera boat driver Brad Wessling offered his boat so that the team could finish out their improbable Championship run.

“We just had to build and build every day,” Semler said. “(Problems) are just something you have got to overcome. First, we had our close call with another boat, then the motor won’t work well (yesterday). Then today we go to take off and it’s just nothing. Then we get permission to jump in the camera boat and things worked out. So, we are pretty lucky.”

After a quick swap and safety check, the boys and their boat captain Jeremiah Semler tore off to Lock and Dam No. 7 to chase their largemouth bite up stream. Upon arrival at their destination in Pool 7, the pair sat down and got to work, posting a limit in the first several minutes of their morning.

“We were expecting to get them, and we could almost call our cast,” Cole Semler said. “This place is something special. But, after the camera crew left especially, we calmed down a lot and were able to cull two times.”

“Brad was a lifesaver today,” Piescher said. “We wouldn’t have gotten even nearly close to top five without him. I don’t think we would have been able to catch the same quality in Pool 8.”

After culling their way up to the 10-pound, 12-ounce mark, the boys headed to the ramp, ensuring they beat out any barge preventing them from returning to Pool 8. The trio of competitors and captain checked in early to ensure to save yet a few more fish for the TBF World Title culminating on Saturday. They hope to become the first team to ever claim both titles in the same year.

“You know, after this much luck, I’m really not sure,” said boat captain Jeremiah Semler. “We have the fish there that we think we need. I’m not sure what bags are going to look like today. But I think we have got a shot at it.”