When the IHSA Bass Fishing Finals finally get started Wednesday -- almost a month late because of high water -- Crab Orchard, West Frankfort, Benton, Nashville and Pinckneyville will have six boats on Carlyle Lake in search of the region's third state championship.
“One of the positives about fishing at Carlyle Lake is that it is very similar to Rend Lake, which our local fishermen are familiar with,” said Pinckneyville assistant coach Derek Jenkle.
State qualifying boats from Southern Illinois have represented the area with distinction since the bass fishing was made an official state activity in 2009. Beginning with West Frankfort winning the state’s first bass fishing title in 2009, and ending with Elkville winning the title last year, there have been a total of 15 local state qualifiers who have finished in the top 10.
Crab Orchard anglers took the top two spots at the Lake of Egypt Sectional, joining Pinckneyville in 2015 as the only local schools to have qualified two boats for the finals in the nine years.
This is the third year Crab Orchard qualified a boat for the state finals The two previous entries were at the inaugural event in 2009, where they finished ninth, and in 2013, where they finished 25.
“I’ve had them since they were freshmen, so we’re not surprised we qualified two boats,” said Crab Orchard coach Hunter Arnold.
Junior Bailey Whitehead and sophomore Chase Arnold will man one of Crab Orchard’s boats.
“This is their second year together,” Arnold said. “Bailey is a fast fisherman for the most part, which could be helpful at Carlyle, while Chase is more of a finesse fisherman, which also could be good.”
Dustyn Burford will man Crab Orchard's second boat by himself. The senior will be the only one this year to fish alone. Lyons Township's Zach Hughes was the only angler to do so last year, and Ethan Jones of Father McGivney Catholic High School, was the first to ever do so in 2015, and won the tournament single-handedly.
“Dustyn is the full package,” Arnold said. “He had a good partner who graduated, so for the most part he’s been alone this year and adjusted to fish every different idea you can think of. He can do very well anywhere.”
West Frankfort’s team of Cole Levanti and Brendan Johnson finished third at the Lake of Egypt Sectional to become West Frankfort’s fifth state qualifying boat, joining the teams from 2009, 2011, 2014 and 2015. West Frankfort finished fifth in the 2011 and 2014.
“Both boys have a lot of experience,” Hefner said, despite the fact that both are sophomores. “Cole has been fishing with his father for a long time. We are coming off conference last weekend and one thing about Brendan is he doesn’t give up. The only time he’s beaten is when we’re driving to fish somewhere else. I expect the boys to fish clear and fish hard, and hopefully come back with the title.”
Conner Bacon and Josh Eickelman from Benton won the Rend Lake Sectional to qualify a Ranger boat for the third time in the last five years, joining the teams from 2013 and 2015.
Tanner McFeron and Jacob Kwiatkowski (along with alternate Conner Wolters) from Nashville finished second at Rend Lake to become only the second Nashville team to qualify for the state finals, joining the 2013 team.
Pinckneyville qualified a boat for the sixth time out of the nine state finals. A Panther boat has finished in the top 10 twice, coming in second in 2014 and fourth in 2010. Senior Corey Dahn and junior Kyle Kreger finished third at sectional to qualify for the first time.
“This will be the first time Corey and Kyle will represent the Panther fishing team at state,” Jenkle said. “They have been very successful this year starting with winning the Hunting and Fishing Days last fall. Both are more of a dragger, flipper and pitcher type, and with the water being high, flooding the vegetation at Carlyle, both do better when they can slow down and flip and pitch than cranking.”