Churchill Harris, left, and Campbell Patterson hold their catch from the GHSA State Bass Fishing Championship. The pair from Oconee County High School finished fourth, qualifying for the national competition in June in Wisconsin.

Churchill Harris and Campbell Patterson didn’t qualify for the GHSA State Bass Fishing Championship until the last qualifying event in April.

There, the Oconee County sophomores needed to place among the top seven to go to the state competition. The duo finished in seventh place.

At the state championship on Saturday, Harris and Patterson finished fourth with a total weight of 15 pounds, 11 ounces. 

“We knew that it was going to be good fishing at Clarks Hill that time of year,” Patterson said. “So I think we were really excited. We kind of knew there was an opportunity to do well, so we had to go do what we needed to do.”

Harris and Patterson headed out onto Clarks Hill Lake around 6:30 in the morning. They didn’t begin catching fish until around 1 p.m., two hours before the competition would end.

The fish finally started to bite, and the fishermen found some much needed momentum.

“It's one of those sports where it's all kind of it's all about the conditions. It was one of those days where the fish were eating late,” Patterson said. “It's one of those things, too, where you just kind of have to keep a positive mentality throughout the day because, you know, at some point, the fish are going to eat so you just kind of have to keep going.”

Even with the late catches, Harris and Patterson weren’t sure they had done well enough to place. They waited a couple hours after the competition was over to hear the results and the top finishers.

“When they called us out in fourth place, I started freaking out,” Harris said. “Having fished all my life, I'm like, this is kind of the dream.”

Not only did the pair exceed expectations, but by finishing in the top four, they qualified for the High School Fishing World Finals and National Championship in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, in late June. There, competitors will fish the Mississippi River. 

That accomplishment was made all the more special for Harris, who got to see it come true with the help of his father, who acted as the boat captain and mentor for the Oconee County sophomores.

“He's helped me tremendously when it came to fishing, so he's taught me a lot,” Harris said. “Having someone that means that much to me in the boat, it makes me want to perform at a better level…I think having him in the boat really helps our mental game which is pretty key when it comes to fishing.

A month away from nationals, the duo will prepare for the competition through research. Scouting previous competitions on the river will help them find the best part of the river to fish at. The river will contain new species of fish, so finding the best bait and practicing techniques with it will be crucial when the competition gets tight.

“I'm not sure really much about those fish or the conditions we'll be in, but I do know it always requires patience and just kind of staying a cool head and doing everything we will have practiced for by the time we get there,” Patterson said.

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