But it was the local angler and his teammate who came up big in the season opener.
“We were catching them flipping docks, using wacky rig finesse worms and, you know, we just kept getting one by one. It was every hour pretty much,” Heinen said. “We started culling (replacing smaller fish with bigger fish) in the last hour or so, and we were pretty excited when we started culling.”
Heinen caught the big fish of the day, a 4.47-pound largemouth.
Heinen worked with fishing legend Ned Kehde, of Lawrence, in the spring to improve his finesse fishing technique in preparation for his senior KBN season.
“The bites came slow,” Heinen said on the weigh-in stage. “We had two in our last hour, so you just have to stick with it.”
Heinen and Bila won the 2015 KBN youth bass title and the Student Angler Federation high school title in 2016.
“The turnout was crazy, because when Thomas and I were in the youth (division) there were six, eight boats,” Bila said. “Now we’re in high school and there’s 32 boats or something like that. It’s great to see everyone out here.”
The lone female competitor, Abby Keeney, was fishing in her first high school tournament alongside third-year veteran Noah Skolnick. She caught one of the largest fish of the day — a 4.01-pound largemouth — using a chatterbait.
“I fished a couple (tournaments) with my dad in the East Kansas Bassmasters, but this is my first high school tournament,” said Keeney, of Gardner. “I loved it. Everyone was so nice and I loved it.”
The team, representing Kickback Bass Club, finished in second place with a four-fish total of 12.02 pounds.
Fellow Kickback members Matthew Gerber and Josh Flynn, who was Skolnick’s teammate last season in the state championship, finished third with three fish for 7.53 pounds.
Trevor Whisenant and Brett Lasley took fourth with two fish totaling 6.83 pounds, including a 4.36-pound smallmouth — the second biggest bass of the day.
Kadyn Smith and Aidan Boettcher, of Circle, rounded out the top five with two fish for 5.09 pounds.
One of the bigger surprises at the weigh-in was how many nice smallmouth bass were weighed. KBN youth director Richard Heflin said the smallies in Perry have been growing in number over the past four years or so. He said they mostly stayed clustered up in their comfort zone in deep, rocky points and haven’t reached the point yet where they are as widespread as largemouth.
Heflin added that the organization used a grant and worked with the state to bring in thousands of dollars worth of structure to the lake, which could be a factor in the smallmouth population uptick.
The second high school qualifier will run from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 7 at Glen Elder Reservoir, with the weigh-in at the State Park Boat Ramp. Heflin said he expected to see as many as 40 teams competing at that event.
Clifton-Clyde’s Gavin Koch and Matthew Barnes won the 2016-17 KBN state titleon May 6, catching 11.27 pounds at Big Hill Reservoir ahead of Heinen, then a junior, and Bila, a sophomore.
KBN 2-MAN HIGH SCHOOL QUALIFIER
At Perry Reservoir
Angler, club Pounds of fish
1. Heinen*/Bila, Capital City 18.35
2. Keeney/Skolnick, Kickback 12.02
3. Gerber/Flynn, Kickback 7.53
4. Whisenant/Lasley, Kickback 6.83
5. Smith/Boettcher, Circle 5.09
6. Nimrod/Nimrod, De Soto 4.77
7. Miller/Minor, De Soto 4.61
8. Brundige/Nedlein, Kickback 3.88
9. Backhus/Shrader, Capital City 2.47
10. Fideldy/Carson, Buhler 2.42
11. Jahay/Gover, Buhler 2.19
*Angler caught the big fish of the tournament