Heinen, a protégée of Midwest Finesse legend Ned Kehde, made a living on tough fishing conditions by throwing Ned Rigs to draw a bite from even the most finicky fish, eventually earning a sponsorship from Z-Man Fishing Products. It’s clear that penchant for tough fishing conditions has rubbed off a bit on Bila, as well, as his new team won by a large margin of 2.65 pounds.
As they look ahead to the second qualifier on the KBN docket Oct. 6 at Wilson Reservoir, Bila has to like the location. Heinen and Bila won the TBF/FLW state championship on Wilson in May. Then again, there aren’t a lot of lakes where the two-time Bassmaster All-State pick hasn’t found success in Kansas.
The runners-up, Mason Chapman and Ryder Mains, may become familiar names alongside them at the top of the leaderboard by season’s end, however. Chapman is the son of Kansas fishing legend Brent Chapman, the 2012 Bassmaster Angler of the Year, and the team has the benefit of having that database of bass tournament knowledge beside them as boat captain. Hard to go wrong there.
Chapman and Mains posted 5.92 pounds in their first high school tournament despite the tough conditions, a sign there could be more good things to come for the pair.
One the most experienced duos on the high school circuit this year are Kyle Simmons and Brett Halstead, representing Capital City. The pair took fifth in the opener and are coming off a hot season last year when they took first at the Big Hill qualifier. Following the first day of the Bassmaster High School National Championship in August on Kentucky Lake, the team sat in fourth place with a bag of 18 pounds, 3 ounces. A second-day weight of 19-3 kept them in contention, but the hot bite died down on Day 3 and the team finished in ninth place out of 337 teams.
Another veteran team, Kick Back’s Trevor Whisenant and Brett Lasley, return this year after a strong showing in 2017-18. The pair took first at the BASS High School Open to qualify for their spot in the Bassmaster High School Classic. They failed to weigh a fish in the opener at Hillsdale, but don’t count them out to push for a state title this year.
A change in teammates also leads to one of the more intriguing pairings in Kick Back’s Abby Keeney and Matt Gerber. Keeney fished last season alongside Noah Skolnick, who this year is teamed with Logan Baechle.
Skolnick and Keeney had some close finishes in 2017-18, including a second-place finish in last year’s opener on Perry with a bag of 12.02, but they never quite got over the hump. Gerber, a veteran angler, makes an intriguing new partner for the less-experienced but high-potential Keeney, though they were skunked during the opener. If their styles are complementary enough of each other, they could find themselves in a position to contend for a title. Skolnick and Baechle may also benefit from the change, though, and Keeney and Gerber have to make up some ground after the opener.
For the dark horses, I’ll be keeping my eye on Topekans Parker Still and Connor Brees — fishing their first full season this year — and will be interested to see how Dylan Nimrod will do this year without his older brother, Connor, leading the way. Nimrod has seen a lot of success in the sport very quickly, but also benefited greatly from the meticulous planning of Connor. Dylan Nimrod, a multi-sport athlete, has admitted he doesn’t take fishing as seriously as his brother, but that doesn’t mean he can’t make a run at things again this year.
As for Still, a crappie-tournament transplant who is still learning his way around the bass boat, he is nevertheless a highly talented angler who can do some damage if he and his partner can finally put it all together schematically. Still and Brees have some history on Wilson, a reservoir where they placed second last year on choppy waters during the 2018 TBF/FLW state championship, posting a four-smallmouth bag of 10.25 pounds. Still said after the fact it was his first time fishing the lake, so perhaps they’ll have more in store during the second qualifier.
In any case, there’s a lot of intrigue already in this young high school fishing season. Stay tuned.