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By John N. Felsher - CHEROKEE, Ala. - More than 175 Alabama youths competed for a share of $20,000 in scholarship money during the inaugural Tim Horton High School Bass Fishing Challenge, held May 18, 2013, on Pickwick Lake.

"We had a phenomenal tournament," said Tim Horton, a professional bass angler from Muscle Shoals, Ala. "We had students from all over the state come here to fish. Some traveled more than 200 miles. That says a lot about their passion for fishing in this state."

The students, representing 30 schools from across Alabama, ran out of Rose Trail Park near Cherokee to fish the 47,500-acre impoundment. Named the 20th best bass lake by Bassmaster magazine, Pickwick Lake runs 53 miles along the Tennessee River between Florence, Ala., and Counce, Tenn.

The young anglers competed in two divisions. The Senior Division consisted of students in 10th through 12th grade. The Junior Division consisted of students in 7th to 9th grade. They fished two to a boat. While they competed against each other, many also fished on the same school teams. An adult, usually a parent of one of the competitors, served as a boat captain. The boat captain operated the boat, but could not fish.

"For the most part, the kids in the same boats were from the same schools, so they competed against each other, but they also helped each other at the same time," Horton explained.

Adam Neill, an 18-year-old senior at Florence High School in Florence, Ala., won the Senior Division with a five-bass tournament limit weighing 16.86 pounds for a 3.38-pound average. He collected $3,000 in scholarship money for the victory and plans to attend the University of Alabama on a fishing scholarship. He hopes to become a professional angler someday.

"I fish this lake all the time," Neill explained. "I fished from the Natchez Trace Bridge to Waterloo. I caught most of my fish on a Strike King KVD 2.5 crankbait in sexy shad in about five feet of water. We also fished bridge pilings and current breaks with a Strike King Shadalicious swimbait with a 3/4-ounce blade runner jighead. The bass were stacked up right behind the pilings getting out of the current. I lost a 5-pounder."

Taking second for the seniors, Zeke Gossett, a 15-year-old sophomore at Pell City High School in Pell City, Ala., brought in five bass for 15.72 pounds. He won a $2,500 scholarship.

"I caught my biggest fish on a Strike King Sexy Dog in less than three feet of water," Gossett revealed. "The big one hit at about 8 a.m. I caught two more of my keepers on the same bait. I caught some smaller fish on a spinnerbait. Then, I caught two 3-pounders on a big worm in deeper water. I caught about 25 fish."

Ethan Rickard, an 18-year-old senior at Florence High, finished third with five bass going 15.35 pounds. He anchored his bag with a 6.66-pound largemouth that took tournament lunker honors. He earned a $1,500 scholarship for third place and a $500 scholarship for catching the biggest bass.

"I caught the big fish at about 1 p.m. on a Strike King KVD 2.5 square-billed crankbait in chartreuse sexy shad," Rickard advised. "I was fishing around current breaks near the Trace bridge. It hit in about 3.5 feet of water. We caught about 40 fish, but I lost a good one early in the morning that might have put me in first place."

In the Junior Division, Austin Brown won with five bass and 14.57 pounds. The 14-year-old seventh grader from Plainview High School in Rainsville, Ala., earned $3,000 in scholarship money.

"I caught most of my fish on an unweighted white fluke in shallow water near grass," Brown advised. "I also caught some of my bigger fish on swimbaits. We probably caught about 40 fish."

Garrett Jones, a 16-year-old freshman at Hartselle High School in Hartselle, Ala., finished second in the Junior Division with five bass going 13.67 pounds. He received a $2,500 scholarship.

"I fished pea gravel banks and boathouses with a jig," Jones recalled. "I dragged it along the bottom in about eight feet of water. I caught about 30 fish, but broke off a big spotted bass."

In third for the junior anglers, Jacob Jefferys, a 15-year-old freshman from Muscle Shoals High in Muscle Shoals, Ala., brought in five keepers for 10.48 pounds. He won a $1,500 scholarship.

"We fished rocky points with big jigs," Jefferys explained. "I just bounced it off the bottom in about 20 feet of water. I only caught five bass, but they were pretty solid."

In addition, the various school teams competed for a share of $3,000 in scholarship money. Based upon the total weights caught by the school team anglers, Hartselle won $1,000 in scholarship money. Muscle Shoals took second and $800 in scholarship money, followed by the Florence, Belgreen and Russellville schools.

"This was such a great event and a wonderful opportunity for the kids," said Susann Hamlin, executive director for the hosting Colbert County Tourism and Convention Bureau. "Tim Horton grew up around here and always loved to fish Pickwick Lake. He wanted to do a scholarship tournament and we started working on it. It's the only scholarship tournament for high school anglers. This kind of tournament will make a major economic impact on the local communities of Colbert County, perhaps as high as a million dollars."

For more information, see FishPickwickLake.com or call the Colbert County Tourism and Convention Bureau at 256-383-0783.

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