Fishing for $120,000

Kyran Hepko, left, and Brock Pearce with their bass catch in tourney action at Pickwick Lake.

A pair of Seymour High School students will be fishing for $120,000 in scholarship money this weekend at Kentucky Lake.

Brock Pearce, a junior, and Kyran Hepko, a freshman, qualified earlier this summer for the B.A.S.S. national tournament that begins today (Wednesday) and continues through Sunday on the public lake located near the Tennessee border.

Hundreds of high-school anglers from throughout the U.S. will compete.

Hepko and Pearce are members of the bass-fishing team at the local high school.

They left for Kentucky early Sunday morning and hopefully won’t return until early next week.

“We’ll fish on Aug. 8 and Aug. 9 (Thursday and Friday), then if we qualify for the final round, we’ll fish on Aug. 10,”

Pearce explained. The winning team receives $120,000 in college-scholarship money, to be split between the two team members.

Accompanying the duo to Kentucky Lake is Scott Hepko, Kyran’s dad and the team’s offi cial “boat captain.”

Hepko and Pearce qualified for the B.A.S.S. event by placing 35th in a field of 381 teams at the National Youth Fishing Association (NYFA) National Championships in late June at Pickwick Lake in Alabama.

At that tourney, the team had a three-day total of just under 11 pounds, as they missed fishing on the fourth and final day by just 2 ounces.

It was the second time the duo qualified for the national tourney at Pickwick Lake.

Pearce’s catch in June totaled 8.18 pounds, while Hepko was at just over 2.5 pounds.

They qualified for the event at Pickwick Lake because of their strong spring-season fishing finish, which included earning 15th place out of more than 375 teams at a NYFA state event held at Lake of the Ozarks.

Two years ago, their fishing team was formed.

“We had a meeting of what was then the new fishing team at our high school, and I asked Kyran if he wanted to be my partner,” Pearce noted.

“We’ve fished together ever since,” Hepko added.

That association has led to literally hundreds of fishing trips, ranging from visits to the lake to daily trips to fishing ponds in the Seymour area.

“We don’t fish with other people,” Hepko said.

“We take it pretty seriously,” Pearce continued. “We fish non-stop with each other.”

Hepko added, “We practice all of the time.”

The hard work has paid off, as the duo enjoyed a very successful 2018-19 season that included finishes near the top of the field in almost every tournament they entered.

Rules for high-school fishing are basic.

No live bait can be used. Lures that are used for fishing can have no more than three hooks. Anglers must wear life jackets at all times.

There are four types of bass that can be caught — large mouth, small mouth, Kentucky and spotted.

The daily limit is five fish.

Bass must be 15 inches long; the lone exception is Kentucky bass, which can be as low as 12 inches, depending on the lake and the state.

In the past school year at Seymour High School, there were five, two-person teams on the bass-fishing team. The team’s coach is Kevin Thurman, a teacher at Seymour Middle School.

“The school pays for our uniforms ... you know, the shirts we use,” Pearce explained. “They also pay for our entry fees at the tournaments.”

However, students are responsible for finding a required boat captain, a boat to use with the required insurance coverage and money to cover operating costs for the boat, such as gasoline.

“We also have to provide our equipment,” Hepko noted.

“That’s things like our rods, our lures ... things like that.”

Virtually every school in the area has a bass-fishing team.

Local rivals include Ava, Fordland, Hartville and Mansfield, to name a few.

At the B.A.S.S. event this week, Hepko and Pearce said only 18 Missouri teams qualified.

“It was pretty neat to qualify for this tournament,” Pearce said. “We’ve put in tons of time, lots of work.”

“It’s a constant learning process,” Hepko added. “I feel like we’ve gotten better every month, every tournament.

“There are times when it’s really tough ... the fish aren’t biting. But when I think back to when we started, Brock and I both have improved a lot. When we go to any tournament, I feel like we’ve got a chance to do really well.”

Both are optimistic about the upcoming school year.

Their season starts next month when they will compete in a shootout at Table Rock Lake on Sept. 8.

At the qualification event, Hepko and Pearce will fish, as will the Seymour team of Scott Helms and Logan Young, both juniors.

“We’ve got a good fishing team here in Seymour,” Pearce concluded. “A lot of people don’t really know that, because they can’t go watch us compete.

“But I’m sure glad our high school made this sport available to us. It’s a ton of fun, and it’s a sport that anyone on our team can enjoy the rest of their lives, even when we are 70 or 80 years old.”

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