BENTON — Cody Miles and Jordan Bowlin had never been asked to perform on this big a stage.
The Benton duo were entered in the March 25 Costa Bassmaster High School Classic at Lake Houston in Texas because last year’s champions Dailus Richardson and Trevor McKinney were the defending champions. Both Richardson and McKinney are now fishing at the collegiate level.
Adding to the pressure, neither Miles nor Bowlin had ever fished Lake Houston, a 20,000-acre reservoir.
As fate would have it, Miles and Bowlin felt right at home. Lake Houston turned out to be a Texas version of Rend Lake: shallow, stained and full of standing timber. They turned that familiarity into another championship for the Benton fishing program, winning the single-day event with 10 pounds, 5 ounces.
“It wasn’t a great lake,” Bowlin said. ‘It was shallow and muddy, but it played into our favor because that’s the lakes around here.”
In the practice days prior to the tournament, Miles and Bowlin were catching fish in the flooded timber. Unfortunately, that pattern didn’t hold up.
“Then they dropped the lake two days before the tournament, about a foot and a half,” Bowlin said. “That kind of changed it a little bit.”
The duo adapted by tournament day, catching a total of eight bass on spinner baits and frogs. But, with a bag of just over 10 pounds, they weren’t overly confident in the weigh-in line.
“I thought we had a little bit of a chance, but not much,” Miles said. “We came in kind of blind, but we started talking to people and started feeling a little better.”
There were just 12 boats invited to the tournament. The Benton duo was the 11th to weigh in.
“I thought we had 10 pounds at least, and eight pounds was leading it,” Bowlin said. “There was only one boat left, but they had five fish also. It was a little nerve-racking.
"I wasn’t too nervous until we got pretty close to weighing in and I realized we might actually have a shot.”
But, the 10-pound, 5-ounce bag held up.
“I didn’t really know what to think,” Bowlin confessed. “I didn’t really think we’d win it. We only had 10 pounds.”
Both admitted feeling a little pressure, fishing in the shadow of Richardson and McKinney.
“I kind of felt like we had to uphold them from last year,” Miles said. “We’re pretty good friends with them. We didn’t want to let them down.”
“I felt like we did have to prove something,” Bowlin said. “We weren’t just there because they won.”
The victory qualified Miles and Bowlin for the Bassmasters High School National Championship at Kentucky Lake in June. Richardson and McKinney placed third last year. At total of 300 boats will be at the national championship.
The duo will also compete in the Bass Nation State Championship in May at Lake Clinton.