MARION — It was a daunting task.

Marion High School anglers Drew Herrmann and Wyatt Gabby registered to compete in the Mossy Oak Bassmaster Central Open tournament at Toledo Bend Lake, a 185-000-acre reservoir that spans the Texas-Louisiana border.

Their job? Whittle down the 185,000 acres to a few manageable locations they could cover in two days of practice, and one day of competitive fishing.

Herrmann, Gabby and boat captain Steve Gabby, Wyatt’s uncle, did just that. The Marion anglers caught a five-fish limit, weighing 12-pounds, 2 ounces. They finished 19th in a field of 241 boats, qualifying for this summer’s high school Bassmaster Classic at Kentucky Lake.

“It was a lot of looking at maps beforehand,” Herrmann said. ”A lot of the pre-fishing is done off the water, pretty much looking at maps, trying to figure out where they are going to be, depending on the time of year. We kind of went down there blind with the maps we had and looking stuff up online.”

They banked on catching fish on long, grassy flats.

“One of the areas we thought we’d catch them on was the edge of the flats, Gabby said. “Our whole goal doing down there was, we were going to section off areas of the lake since we didn’t have much time. That’s what we did. We put our heads down and grinded it out in that area of the lake.”

Through the two practice days it didn’t look promising. They caught just three fish.

Things got only markedly better Jan. 28, the day of the tournament.

“We caught five fish and that was it,” Herrmann said. “Going into it, I didn’t think we’d catch a fish, let alone catch five and qualify. That was definitely a shock.”

“We caught a lot of fish on Rat-L-Traps and spinner baits and a few on crank baits,” Gabby added. “We usually got most of our bites in 12-feet of water.”

Since the field was so large and they were fishing a new body of water, the Marion juniors had no idea where they stood as they headed to the weigh-in line. And, they had to wait a couple hours to learn their fate, they weighed-in during the second of eight flights.

“Going up there I figured we’d need 14-15 pounds to qualify,” Gabby said. “I felt like we didn’t have that one big kicker we needed to qualify. That haunted me the whole time we were walking up there. We squeaked in I guess. It doesn’t matter … we’re in.

“We didn’t think we had it. When we weighed in we were ninth out of 241 and just slowly dropped down. We ended up making it in.”

This is the second time the duo has qualified for the high school classic. They made the field as freshmen.

“I’m excited,” Gabby said. “The last time we went we were 70th of 100-something. Not a great finish. We’re looking to finish a little bit better, get a little bit of redemption. Coming back to experience, I think that will help a lot.”

Two other Southern Illinoisans also earned a spot in the classic field – Hunter Juvers and Samuel Alstat of Herrin. They finished 21st with three fish weighing 11 pounds, 9 ounces. The winning weight was 21 pounds, 7 ounces.

“We didn’t do this on our own,” Gabby said. “It’s the support from our parents, the countless hours we put in the boat with my dad and my uncle. His parents, from booking hotels, cooking food. It’s not easy. It can’t be done on our own. Everyone deserves equal credit.”


On Twitter: @LesWinkeler​