Nick Keith Jr. and Jagger Wells experienced several firsts during the past year. The 2022-23 school year was Wells’ first year competing with Munford High School’s bass team and his first season partnering with Keith to fish competitively.
Keith and Wells bonded well enough to accomplish another first — qualifying for the Bassmaster national championship tournament after a strong finish at an open event on Lay Lake.
The duo will fish at Lake Hartwell in South Carolina from July 27 to July 29 with a chance to become national champions.
“It’s crazy and surreal because it’s my first year, and we’re already going to nationals,” Wells, a rising freshman, says. “At the same time, I’m nervous but excited.”
“I don’t think it’s hit home yet what they’ve done. It’s a once in a lifetime event,” adds Jabo Bowman, the team’s boat captain, or coach. “That tournament is just like the Bassmaster Classic for the pros. It’s the highest level to get to. It’s pretty amazing for them to qualify for it at such a young age.”
A Qualifying Quantity
The Munford team completed a 10-tournament schedule this past season, but no tournament mattered more than a Bass Anglers Sportsman Society-sponsored open event that launched from Beeswax Creek Park on Lay Lake in late February.
About 220 teams participated in the event, vying for one of the 25 spots that qualified for the national championship tournament. The Munford team had solid success throughout the day but encountered some late troubles just before weigh-in.
Since fish must be alive for them to count toward the final weight, boats contain livewells — aerated tanks that act like aquariums. Just minutes before weigh-in, the batteries in Bowman’s livewell quit.
“We were in the first flight, so we were weighing in first,” Bowman says. “Nick catches a 4-pounder about 40 minutes before the finish, and you can hear those livewells quit.”
The team decided to weigh its 5 catches early. Keith’s and Wells’ 15 pounds, 8 ounces placed them on top of the leaderboard in initial results.
Sitting in the “hot seat” next to the weigh-in station, dozens and dozens of teams could not beat the Munford total. One of Fayetteville High School’s teams, comprised of Alex Barrett and Davis Ray, came close with a weight of 15 pounds, 7 ounces.
The Munford duo almost collected another first — a top finish — but a team from Illinois recorded 19 pounds and 5 ounces with just minutes left in weigh-in.
“The team that beat us had a lot of largemouths, and we only had spotted bass,” Keith, a rising junior, says. “It’s hard to beat a bag full of largemouths.”
Still the effort was good enough to qualify for this season’s main event.
Preparing for South Carolina
Even though they qualified for nationals in late February, BASS only announced the tournament’s location in late April. Furthermore, none of the qualifying teams can fish on Lake Hartwell from July 1 to July 23, the tournament’s first practice date.
That leaves Keith and Wells with a short window to find unique ways to prepare for the tournament.
“I watch YouTube videos, study the lake and what has worked in the past,” Wells says. “We have a better advantage than the people before us did because they fished Lake Hartwell in nationals last year. We can look back on that.”
“I also like to watch the old Bassmaster Opens on different lakes or Bassmaster Classics,” Keith adds. “It’s good to know what the pros used. Circumstances might have changed. They might have not.”
One thing is for sure — the team will be raising money in the interim.
Depending on their success, Keith and Wells could stay in South Carolina a full week. As a non-traditional club sport, the participants raise money to help cover costs like entry fees, equipment, occasional hotel stays and transportation.
“A lot of it comes out of pocket,” Bowman says. “We try to raise a lot with sponsors. It’s not cheap.”
Corporate sponsorships from entities like Coosa Valley Electric Cooperative, Coosa Valley Propane and Coosa Valley Technologies help ensure anglers like Keith and Wells enjoy their sport and reach their goals.
“CVEC, its subsidiaries and our many other sponsors are an important part of our club,” says Paige Keith, Nick’s mother and a team booster. “Unfortunately, fishing is expensive, and not all fam- ilies can afford it. Sponsorships help subsidize the costs and gives kids the opportunity to be involved in a non-traditional sport.
“We can’t thank CVEC and our other generous sponsors enough for supporting our children and giving back to our community.”
Coosa Valley Electric Cooperative and its subsidiaries proudly support youth programs across the region.
“CVEC was founded by local people to serve the greater good of the Coosa Valley region,” adds Jeremy Wise, CVEC’s manager of marketing and member services. “We’ve never forgotten that pur- pose and who we serve. We’re proud to support youth athletics and clubs since these entities teach important life skills like leadership and discipline.”
If you are interested in contributing to the bass team’s fundraising efforts, email Paige Keith.
Coosa Valley Area Teams Qualified for Bassmasters Nationals
Fayetteville High School
- Team 1: Alex Barrett and Davis Ray
- Team 2: Johnbrady Buttram and Cadence Barrett
Munford High School
- Nick Keith Jr. and Jagger Wells
If you are interested in financially supporting the Munford Fishing Team, email the Munford Fishing Team for more information.