CARTERVILLE — After catching a couple fish early, Hunter Ralls and Avery Goines endured a couple hours without a strike.
But, that wasn’t the longest part of their day.
The Anna-Jonesboro anglers were among the first teams to the scales at Saturday’s Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge High School Classic. They weighed in a hefty 17.08-pound limit, then had to watch dozens of other teams weigh-in.
The tournament is held in conjunction with the Southern Illinois celebration of National Hunting and Fishing Days.
While the 45-minute wait might have been tough on the cuticles, no one came close to Ralls and Goines.
The second-place team, Josh Oliver and Noah McFarland, also representing Anna-Jonesboro High School, placed second at 12.51 pounds. Chase Fulkerson and Dalton Pyatt of Pinckneyville claimed third place at 10.80 and Carbondale’s Jayden Snyder and Riley Coffer were fourth at 10:23.
“It was pretty nerve-wracking to watch everyone else walk up and hear what they had,” Ralls said. “We heard another boat had a pretty good limit. We just didn’t know when they were going to come in. It ended up not quite being enough.
“We knew we had a good chance of at least placing, or doing pretty good. We were happy that it all worked out in the end.”
A late decision to fish rip rap proved to be a winner for Ralls and Goines. They began the day working topwater baits through the grass, but that bite died down as the day heated up.
“We started out in the back in the back and caught one good one early this morning than we ran up and had to make a late, last minute decision to try to get a couple more,” Ralls said. “We were running low on time. We didn’t have all our fish. We got lucky. We lucked into our big one and a couple kickers. It all worked out.”
Their big fish, a 5.66-pound monster caught by Ralls on a crank bait, was good enough to take big bass honors.
After making the move to the rip rap, the winners continued to throw topwater baits before switching to crank baits. Ralls caught the big fish on the crank bait.
The winners took the tournament title without the benefit of pre-fishing.
“My dad has been up here a couple times during the week,” Ralls said. “We’ve been busy and haven’t been able to make it up. We were going off his decisions and it worked out.”
Forty teams participated in the tournament, the largest field in the history of the event.