ANGLING FOR A TITLE: State high school fishing winners headed to national championships

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Tate Hackler and Cayden Carlson show off the bass they caught to win the Indiana BASS Nation High School State Championship contest. The fish weighed a total of 11.97 pounds, and their victory earned them the chance to compete in the national championship tournament July 30-31 in Tennessee. Submitted

NEW PALESTINE — Two recent New Palestine High School grads are heading to the national high school bass fishing championships next weekend, after reeling in the state championship for Indiana high school bass fishing this summer.

Tate Hackler and Cayden Carlson, both 18, took home the top prize at the Indiana BASS Nation High School State Championship June 6 at Brookville Lake.

The young men caught five fish during the eight-hour tournament, weighing a total 11.97 pounds.

The win qualified them to go on to compete in the 2021 Mossy Oak Fishing Bassmaster High School National Championship, which will be July 30-31 at Chickamauga Lake in Dayton, Tennessee, where they’ll compete for scholarship money and other prizes.

“For Tate and I to win state and get a trip to nationals is a blessing,” said Carlson, who is fired up about the trip.

“Going to nationals is not only crazy, it’s amazing, after all that’s happened over the past year” he said.

Until graduating this summer, Hackler and Carlson were members of the New Palestine High School fishing club, led by coach Brook Johnson.

The club has its share of skilled anglers. The team placed second in the state this year for having the best cumulative results at the state championship finals.

Johnson’s son, Jack Johnson, and his partner, Kobe Calvert, also placed 11th in the state tourney.

The team from New Palestine took part in three tournaments throughout the state this year hosted by BASS, the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society

High school anglers fish in teams of two at tournaments, with an adult sponsor driving the boat. Teams accumulate points at various BASS tournaments throughout the state for the chance to go to the state championships, where 31 teams competed this year

Hackler and Carlson’s win was the first state championship for the New Palestine team.

“We have fished hard from the first cast into the water until our last,” said Carlson. “We couldn’t have done any of this without our boat captain, Jeff. He’s brought us a long way,” he said, referring to Tate’s dad, Jeff Heckler.

The younger Heckler said he’s been fishing with his dad “for as long as I remember.”

The father and son compete in fishing tourneys together on Geist Reservoir, some of which take place between midnight and 9 a.m.

Jack Johnson and Kobe Calvert, members of the New Palestine High School fishing team, display the bass they caught to take 11th place in the Indiana BASS Nation High School State Championship contest on June 6 at Brookville Lake.  Submitted
Jack Johnson and Kobe Calvert, members of the New Palestine High School fishing team, display the bass they caught to take 11th place in the Indiana BASS Nation High School State Championship contest on June 6 at Brookville Lake. Submitted

The teen thinks staying up all night catching bass is the perfect way to spend the summer.

“Just give me a nice nap before and maybe a Red Bull,” he said

“I love catching fish and the chance to beat a bunch of other guys,” said Hackler, whose competitive drive also drove him to succeed on his high school’s baseball team

Hackler said the secret to his and Carlson’s success at state was flipping bait onto wood, pitching the line into woody areas like branches and trees in the water where bass like to congregate, foraging for food.

Johnson loves teaching the team tips and techniques that can help them reel in big fish.

“I just like to pass on the knowledge to the kids to give them something they can do when they’re older,” said Johnson, who was in a fishing club himself when he was in high school.

“I’ve coached a lot of youth sports, like football and baseball. I just enjoy teaching kids,” he said.

Johnson started teaching his son to fish at a young age, taking him along to tournaments when his son was in the second grade.

“It’s a nice way to spend time together outdoors, just enjoying nature,” he said.