FLW’s Lake Erie Open: Gibsonburg, Oak Harbor students place nationally

J. Patrick Eaken

        Oak Harbor High School senior Daniel Freebern and Gibsonburg Middle School eighth grader Kyle Johnson of Helena placed fourth at the 2019 Bass Pro Shops FLW High School Fishing Lake Erie Open presented by Costa Sunglasses.
        “I thought it was pretty fun. The way they ran it and everything was pretty nice — a big stage and everything made me feel pretty cool,” Kyle said.
        A field of 30 teams competed in the no-entry fee tournament, which launched from Shelby Street Public Boat Launch in Sandusky. The tournament was hosted by the City of Sandusky. In FLW and The Bass Federation (TBF) High School Fishing competition, the top 10 percent of teams competing advance to the High School Fishing National Championship.
        On Lake Erie, it was the top three teams that advanced to the 2020 national championship and Freebern and Johnson just missed advancing by one place and four ounces.    
        The duo, fishing for the Black Swamp Bass Club, had a catch of five bass for a total weight of 13 pounds, seven ounces. That was just behind the A1Angler Bass Club team of Bobby Belair of New Boston, Michigan and William Junge of South Rockwood, Michigan, who had a catch of 13-11 and will advance to nationals.
        As a team, this was Freebern and Johnson’s second tournament together. They met in the Bass Swamp Youth Bass Club, which meets twice a month.
        “The club is really cool,” Kyle said. “It’s pretty neat because my parents started it because we didn’t have one near us, so we decided to start one. It’s been a lot of fun.”
        In the tournament, Freebern and Johnson found a spot near Cedar Point which boded well for them. Kyle’s father, Todd owns and captained the boat they used for the competition. He played a role in recommending where the two boys should fish.
        “We live not too far from there so we kind of went out there and free fished for a while, and we found this one spot that, if the current is right, you can really catch them there,” Kyle said. “My dad and my mother went out a couple times and found out about this spot and told us about it.”
        Daniel said, “We did pretty well. We started in a spot — we somehow got there even though there were 16 boats being called. We got there and we were just catching fish all day, it’s just that some of them were too short.”
        They had a solid strategy prepared before they even got to their spot.
        “We were flipping creature baits into lily pads, and then we would just slowly bring them out and they would bite it,” Daniel said.
        Kyle added, “We went up to this one bridge that has (lily) pads right up next to it and there is a point where this current comes around. We didn’t move all day off that point, so I probably caught 10 fish but only four of them we kept. Daniel had three of the ones in the well and he had the biggest one.
        “We’d sit there with our trolling motor and the current was super heavy so you had to have your trolling motor constantly put on six or seven just to be in position. We’d have Texas rigs with three eight ounce or half-ounce light bullet weights on there. I was throwing (my cast) right into the lily pads and drifting our bait right into the pads. Normally the fish would just pick it up,” Kyle continued.
        First place went to George Rosters High School (Allen Powe and Alex Dunaway, 15-7) of Winchester, Kentucky with five bass totaling 15-7 and second place went to Anthony Wayne High School (Elliot Wielgopolski of Waterville and Josh Dachenhaus of Whitehouse), who had five bass for a total weight of 14-9. Both will advance to nationals.
        The 2019 Bass Pro Shops FLW High School Fishing Lake Erie Open was a two-person (team) event for students in grades 7-12, open to any Student Angler Federation (SAF) affiliated high school club in the United States. The 2020 National Championship will be on the Mississippi River in La Crosse, Wisconsin. The High School Fishing national champions will each receive a $5,000 college scholarship to the school of their choice.
        In addition to the High School Fishing National Championship, all high school fishing anglers nationwide automatically qualify for the world’s largest open high school bass tournament, the 2020 High School Fishing World Finals, held in conjunction with the national championship. At the 2019 World Finals more than $150,000 in scholarships and prizes were awarded.
        Even though Freebern and Johnson came up short in the high school tournament, at the state tournament for middle school youth, Kyle and his sister Kalyn placed first and will head to nationals in 2020. They may team up for the high school tournament next year, Kyle said.
        Kyle says Freebern is a “good fisherman” and was fortunate to have him for a teammate. Freebern will be looking to “go to the next level” next year for competition.
        “It was a great experience,” Daniel said.  “I’m sad I’m not going to be fishing anymore because this is the last one and then I’m going to be out of high school next year, but I’m going to try and look at some college teams.”
        Daniel’s family, like Kyle’s, played a role in making him the fisherman he is becoming.
        “It’s really peaceful and since I’ve been doing it I fell in love with it,” Daniel said. “My Uncle Josh, my uncle Matt and my dad (Daniel Freebern) — those are my main influences. We used to go to Canada every year and we’d Small Mouth (Bass) fish and that’s how I fell in love with it.”
        Daniel says there is another side to competitive fishing — the other youth fishermen they meet often become friends. However, Daniel warns that, like in many sports, it is the parents who sometimes take the competition the most seriously.
        “I made more friends than anything. It’s pretty friendly,” Daniel said. “It’s mostly the boat captains who are not the nicest if anything. The kids are pretty nice.”


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