LAKE OF EGYPT — It was a veteran move.
The Elverado High School duo of Zach Berner and Alec Valerius knew they had a big bag of fish. They didn’t know if it would be enough to win the IHSA sectional title.
So, they bided their time, hanging near the end of the weigh-in line.
When it was their turn at the scales, their five-fish limit tipped the scales at 15.08 pounds, more than a half-pound better than Carterville’s Austin Swalls and Blake Vaughn.
There was really no strategy involved. The winners just didn’t want the stress of waiting for someone to beat their weight.
“We wanted to see what we were going up against basically,” Berner said. “I’d rather wait until last to see what everybody else has. It’s been good for the last few weeks. I thought there would be bigger bags weighed in.”
Ironically, their score topped the 13.9 pounds weighed in by Wyatt Smith and Garrett Cook of Anna-Jonesboro, who weighed in first. Swalls and Vaughn were the last team to weigh in.
Those three teams advance to the state finals at Carlyle Lake May 20-21. Luke Clark and Caleb Murley of Goreville finished fourth and they are alternates.
Berner and Valerius had four solid keepers topped with a 4.57-pound kicker caught by Berner.
“Fishing was good to start with,” Berner said. “We caught most of our fish in the first hour and a half. It slowed down a lot.”
The winners caught their fish working frogs over weed beds. They culled two or three times.
“It’s good to have two boys that have fished together for a long period of time,” said Berner’s father, Greg, who served as boat captain. “They know what to throw. If one guy has a fish on, they can tell. They’re in synch with how they are fishing as far as throwing two different baits and working a body of water. “
This marks the third straight year Berner and Valerius have advanced to state.
Nineteen of the 21 boats brought limits to the scale. Twelve of the 21 teams caught bags topping 10 pounds.
The West Frankfort team of Tim Woods and Keaton Walley took big bass honors for a 4.78-pound fish caught by Woods.
At the Rend Lake Sectional, Hunter Behm and Cole Hopkins of Du Quoin took first place with 13.47 pounds. They also earned the big bass award with a 4.56-pound fish.
Luke Garver and Derek Mueller of Christopher placed second with 11.51 pounds. The Du Quoin duo of Collin White and Brandon Heape earned the third spot in the state tournament with 9.49 pounds.
Red Bud placed fourth to take the alternate spot.