“Tournament was very tough,” Heinen said. “Caught the best one early and then the bite shut off. We had 30 mph wind gusts and 5-foot waves coming in on our spots. The last fish we had was in the last 45 minutes of the tournament, and that won us the tournament!”
Fellow Topekans Parker Still and Connor Brees took second place, hauling in four smallmouth bass for 10.25 pounds. Still said he’d never even been on Wilson before.
“It was tough but I had a blast,” Still said. “They were munching the craw-colored crank baits. All our fish were caught on crank baits. The conditions were tough — super windy — didn’t think we were gonna make it across the water, to be honest. Glad my boater Casey Brees and my partner stuck it out in the horrible conditions.
“Also glad first and second place were from Topeka! And congrats to Thomas Heinen and Brock Bila on bringing in a nice bag.”
Still, who crappie fishes full-time against adult competition on the Kansas Crappie Club tournament trail, was fishing in just his second high school bass tournament.
Heinen and Bila had one largemouth and three smallmouth, with one giant 4-pound smallie that Heinen, who is sponsored by Z-Man Fishing Products, said he caught off a Ned Rig. They also fought with a fifth bass that broke off four times.
Heinen said water temperatures only got up to 48 degrees on the day.
“We thought we would have got a jerkbait bite but discovered that finesse was the key,” Heinen said.
This isn’t the first time Heinen and Bila have won an FLW state title. They also won in 2016 on Milford Reservoir, when Heinen was a sophomore and Bila was a freshman.
“Winning this tournament means a lot,” Heinen said. “I have been in this circuit for four years now and we were very fortunate. This is my senior season, last FLW high school tournament for Kansas, and I couldn’t have asked for a better ending. The 2016 FLW state championship at Milford we won was a great tournament, but this was definitely my favorite one considering the conditions we had to fight to secure another win.”
Bila, who still has a year left to fish in his high school career, shared the sentiment.
“Winning this tournament meant a lot to me, but I know for Thomas it means a lot more,” Bila said. “I’m still a junior, so I still have another year of fishing. Thomas is a senior and this will be his last year. He loves the sport of fishing, and I’m glad we were able to win this tournament.”
Bila also made a splash on his own earlier this month, finishing 14th overall and first place in Kansas at the BASS Nation Central Regional on Toledo Bend. Bila was gracious when asked about the team’s continued success throughout the years.
“It’s been a blessing that we were put together since the start of our fishing careers,” Bila said. “After my strong finish at the BASS Regional, I am a strong believer in if it’s meant to be, it will be. He is one heck of a fisherman and has the grind like no other fisherman. He’s putting everything aside to become the best fisherman he can.
“As for our success as a team, I can put that on our boat captain, Larry (Brumley). Having a contest boat captain that will be there for any tournament really helps us be such a solid team. That’s the difference between us and other teams. No matter where we go, it’s always Thomas, Larry, and I.”