Texas team claims 2022 title

BASSMASTER CHAMPIONS – Members of the Lone Star Jr. Bassmasters from Texas, hold their trophies high after winning the 2022 Bassmaster Junior National Championships. That team features (from left) Mark Cerja, Jr., 14; his father and boat captain, Mark Cerja; and Gus Richardson, 14.
SECOND PLACE – The Rhea County Eagle Anglers from Dayton, TN took second in the tournament. That team includes anglers Camdyn Cranfill and Owen Ray, both 14, and boat captain Hagen Cranfill.
BIG BASS – Caden Strawn from Sand Springs, Oklahoma shows off the seven-pound, 13-ounce bass he caught on Saturday. That was the second biggest fish weighed that day.
OUT ON THE LAKE – Young anglers Peter McDonald, 14, and Preston Hartzell, 13, and their boat captain (Peter’s father) Paul McDonald were out on the 1,000-Acre Lake competing in the tournament Friday morning.
DEEPER WATER – Two bass fishing teams head out for deeper water Friday morning at the 1,000-Acre Lake.

Bassmaster Junior National Championships

By Ron Park

Staff Writer

The Carroll County 1000-Acre Recreational Lake served as a practice field and an arena of competition last week as young anglers from all over the U.S.A. and beyond hit the water in the 2022 Bassmaster Junior National Championships.

A total of 65 teams, all consisting of two young fishermen and an adult boat captain, competed in the tournament, which began on Friday and concluded on Saturday – though many of the teams came days earlier in order to spend some time practice fishing on the lake.

Weigh-ins were held in the parking lot next to Billy Cary Park in downtown Huntingdon Friday and Saturday afternoon, and the top awards were handed out after all the fish were weighed on Saturday in front of a crowd of hundreds of team members, family, and friends.

Claiming this year’s national title were Mark Cerja, Jr. and Gus Richardson, both 14, with Lone Star Jr. Bassmasters from the Dallas-Ft. Worth area in Texas, along with their boat captain (and Mark’s father), Mark Cerja.

The Texas duo, who have only been fishing together since June, had a really good first day on Friday, reeling in 10 pounds and seven ounces of bass, and then delivered a solid seven-plus-pound performance on Saturday for a winning grand total of 18 pounds and five ounces.

Both Mark and Gus caught multiple four-plus pounders and both were awarded $1,000 scholarships for the win.

According to Mr. Cerja, they employed a strategy of using only soft plastic lures and sticking around coves and docks and places with heavy weeds and brush.

“The bigger fish were caught further offshore,” said Mark.

“It’s a tough lake to fish,” said Gus, who added that there are plenty to catch if you pick the right spots.

“It’s a fantastic lake,” said Mr. Cerja. “We’ve never caught so many fish at a tournament in our lives.”

One of two Tennessee teams competing in the tournament took second place honors. That team featured Owen Ray and Camdyn Cranfill, both 14, with their boat captain Hagen Cranfill, all with Rhea County Eagle Anglers.

Placing third were the PA Bassin’ Juniors from South Central Pennsylvania. That team included Alex Fitzpatrick, 14, and Ander Cowan, 13, along with boat captain John Fitzpatrick.

Landon Gabby-Carson from Marion, IL hooked the biggest whale of the tournament with an eight-pound, three-ounce bass on Saturday. 

Numerous states were represented at the tournament, and there was even one team from Canada.

Peter McDonald, 14, and Preston Hartzell, 13, and their boat captain and Peter’s father, Paul McDonald, made quite a haul all the way from Fort Collins in Colorado to compete in the tournament.

These three had just docked for a pit stop Friday morning when this reporter caught up with them.

Peter said this was his first time at the 1,000-Acre Lake, but Preston said he was here a couple of years ago for another tournament.

“It’s a really nice lake,” said Peter.

“I’d like to have it in my backyard, please,” said Mr. McDonald.

While there were no local teams competing in the tournament, there were some locals who took part in opening ceremonies before weigh-ins on both days. The Huntingdon High School Marching Band performed the national anthem on Friday, and a trio of young ladies from Huntingdon First Baptist Church – including Madelyn Anderson, 11; Ali Harris, 12; and Alexis Shelton Connors, 12 – sang the “Star Spangled Banner” on Saturday.

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