MARION — Crab Orchard High School took the top two spots at the IHSA Bass Fishing Lake of Egypt Sectional hosted by Mack's Lake of Egypt Marina on Monday to qualify for the state tournament for the first time since 2013.
"We're excited to go to state," said sophomore Chase Arnold of the winning Crab Orchard No. 16 boat. "We were pretty tired this morning after fishing two (Illinois B.A.S.S. Nation) tournaments this weekend at Clinton Lake. This is the second year we've been fishing as a team and the first time we've finished first in any tournament this season."
The Trojan teams not only claimed two of the three advancing boats, but junior Bailey Whitehead pulled in the Big Bass of the day at 5.16 pounds.
"This is kind of my home lake," Whitehead said. "This is the first time I got Big Bass and caught it around 11 o'clock towards the back of the lake near the bank when it came out of a pocket. We fished slow all day — threw jigs, black and blue."
Whitehead and Arnold bagged the limit of five fish that weighed in at 15.9 pounds, ahead of senior Dustyn Burford in Crab Orchard boat No. 23 that finished second at 14.29.
"We caught our fish pretty early, but we caught a four-pounder near the end that really changed everything," Arnold said.
Burford was fishing by himself after his partner pulled out at the last moment. He hooked the sixth-largest bass of the day, a keeper that tipped the scales at 3.78 pounds.
"This was my last year to make it and I made it," Burford said. "I didn't find out he wasn't going to be here until about 5 o'clock this morning. We (and his boat captain) stayed in one cove towards the back of the lake all day. I probably pulled in 20-25 fish today punching grass."
This was the first time Crab Orchard qualified two boats and only the third time overall since bass fishing became an IHSA certified activity in 2009. The state championship will be held at Carlyle Lake on May 19-20.
The West Frankfort team of sophomores Cole Levanti and Brendan Johnson claimed the third qualifying spot with a five-fish bag that weighed in at 13.75 pounds.
"I caught the big one on a beaver around nine in the morning and he put up a good fight," Levanti said. "There's going to be a lot of competition at state, but I'm ready for it because I've been fishing all my life."
Johnson claimed the second biggest bass with a fish that weighed in at 4.92 pounds.
"We caught them in the morning using beaver and spinner bait," Johnson said. "I've been fishing all my life, but I've never fished Carlyle before, so it's going to be tough at state."
Anna-Jonesboro junior Hunter Ralls and freshman Avery Goines in the No. 17 boat finished fourth with a haul of 13.22 pounds to qualify as an alternate.
"We started out catching a couple good ones, but it slowed down when it got hotter," Goines said.
Ralls finished third in the hunt for the Big Bass with a fish that weighed in at 4.37 pounds edging out a fish caught by Murphysboro's boat No. 4 by just .01 pounds.
"It was crazy because I hooked into a big catfish earlier thinking it was a big monster — it ended up being 12 pounds," Ralls said. "Then we fished a little longer and around 10 o'clock I ended up hooking into the four-pounder about half down the lake in between the islands."
Last year's sectional and state champion Elverado failed to qualify after its No. 21 boat finished 14th and its No. 9 boat came in at 19th in the 25-boat field.
REND LAKE SECTIONAL: The Benton #1 team of Conner Bacon and Josh Eickelman took the top spot at the Rend Lake Sectional, with a haul of 4 pounds, 12 ounces.
Other advancing squads were: Nashville #1 (Tammer McFeron, Jacob Kwaitkowski, Conner Wolters, 3 pounds, 3 ounces) and Pinckneyville #2 (Corey Dahn, Kyle Kreger, 2 pounds, 12 ounces).
The alternate qualifer was Pinckneyville #1's team of Grant Murphy and Chase Fulkerson, with 2 pounds, 8 ounces.