Denis Peirce: Nevada County teen continues local tradition of making waves in national fishing scene
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, there were two brothers growing up at Lake Wildwood with a passion for fishing. R.J. and Michael Bennett were able to spend countless hours on the water developing their bass-fishing skills.
After graduating Nevada Union High School, the brothers went on the professional bass fishing circuit. Michael Bennett made it all the way to the top of the sport. In August of 2008, he won the annual Costa FLW Bass Fishing Championship and the $1 million prize that came with it. His lifetime winnings exceed $1.5 million.
Currently, there is a 16-year-old from Lake Wildwood who is beginning to make his mark in the bass-fishing world. Meet Zack Featherston. Featherston started competitive bass fishing about a year ago at the high school level. He heard of the Costa California High School Championship Tournament at Lake Oroville scheduled for April and entered.
Needing a partner for the event Featherston approached Adrian Murar from Elk Grove, whom he had met at earlier high school events. It was their first time fishing as a team. They were able to pick up five good-sized bass throwing swim baits alongside bridge pilings and they won the tournament. This put them on the list of teams eligible to compete in the June national finals on Kentucky Lake in the state of Tennessee.
Making the national championship event is one thing, financing a two-week road trip halfway across the continent at age 16 is another.
Up stepped two fishing clubs, the Lake Wildwood Club and the Yuba Sutter Club. Both combined to make this an all-expense-paid trip.
Reeling in the opportunity
The way the high school circuit works is that local tournament anglers volunteer their boats and themselves for the event. Featherston and Murar wanted to cover their bets and Murar towed his boat all the way to Tennessee, in case they needed it for pre-fishing the lake.
They spent six days, 12 hours per day, fishing and graphing the lake. Kentucky Lake is well over 100 miles long and there was a lot of water to explore. They found dozens of schools of fish. But 58 miles back, the lake had one school that was staying in place day after day and seemed to produce larger fish.
Day one of the tournament coincided with a tropical storm moving up from the Gulf of Mexico with heavy rain, wind and up to 4-foot waves on areas of the lake. They made the hour-ride 58 miles up lake and found the school again on a ledge 40 feet down. Upon the afternoon weigh-in, they were in 11th place in a field of 226 boat teams with a weight of 20 pounds, 13 ounces.
Day two was to have the full compliment of 226 boats on the water. The third day was to be a reduced field of the top dozen boats for the finale. The second day’s weather was looking worse than day one and it was canceled. The rules were modified so that all boats would fish the third and final day.
Day three featured a few scattered showers in the morning and then clear weather. After running back up the lake to what they hoped would be a school they could locate, Murar and Featherston had another good day catching bass deep on ledges. When all was said and done the team of Featherston, Murar, and boat captain Austin Brown, put another 20 pounds of bass in the boat to move up from 11th place to 4th place in the standings, an incredible achievement in a field of 227 teams.
They were only a couple of pounds behind the winning team from South Carolina. Each of the young men earned a $1,000 scholarship and a $750 gift certificate for Costa sunglasses.
Featherston and Murar made it home safely and I am sure they are planning out their strategies for the next season on the high school bass circuit. Kudos to the Lake Wildwood Fishing Club who, along with the Yuba Sutter Club, stepped up and made this dream come true for a couple of young sportsmen.
The Bennett brothers left some pretty big local footprints to fill in the competitive bass-fishing world. It will be interesting to see how far Featherston can take his fishing passion in years to come.
Denis Peirce writes a fishing column for The Union’s Outdoors section and is host of “The KNCO Fishing & Outdoor Report,” which airs 6-7 p.m. Fridays and 5-6 a.m. Saturdays on 830-AM radio. Contact him via his website at http://www.trollingflies.com.
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