COOK- A pair of bass-angling brothers from Cook were the class of the field at the recent Minnesota Junior B.A.S.S. Nation High School Championship tournament on Gull Lake in Nisswa, rocketing from …
COOK- A pair of bass-angling brothers from Cook were the class of the field at the recent Minnesota Junior B.A.S.S. Nation High School Championship tournament on Gull Lake in Nisswa, rocketing from 11th to first on the second day to claim the championship.
Jake Panichi, a senior at North Woods School, and his brother, Louie, a freshman, play football for the Grizzlies, but when the Chisholm game came around on Sept. 10, they left the game in the able hands of their teammates. They had bigger fish to fry that weekend, bass, in the state tournament.
This is the second summer the Panichis have competed as a team, and having already qualified for nationals on the Student Angler Tournament Trail tour, one of three they competed in this summer, expectations were high as they went into the Junior B.A.S.S. Nation finale.
“For the SATT, they had four tournaments, and we finished in the top 15 percent in all four,” Jake said. “We would have got team of the year (if they counted all four tournaments), but they take the top three. So, we finished sixth for team of the year and we got to go to nationals that way.”
The brothers took four days to scope out the lake for spots that would yield good catches.
“We pre-fished the Saturday and Sunday before and then we took school off Thursday and Friday and pre-fished.”
But fishing conditions one day can be different the next, as the Panichis found out when the tournament got underway.
“We found one spot that we thought was going to be filled with them, and when we went there the first day of the tournament it did not end up to be very good,” Louie said.
They spent the day concentrating on three spots, tossing flipping jigs along shallow weed lines. Some tournaments use cell phone apps that allow competitors to see where they stand by recording catches in real time and releasing them, but this tournament followed the classic weigh-in format. Jake and Louie’s haul tipped the scales at 15.41 pounds, good enough for 11th place in the 96-team tourney, but nearly four pounds behind the leaders.
Jake and Louie knew they were in striking range with a good second-day catch, and they decided to stick with what had worked for them on day one.
“We fished the same three spots and they just produced,” Jake said. “The school of two- to three-pounders moved out and a school of three-and-a-half and four-pounders moved in there.”
They pulled in 18.35 pounds of bass that day, although that wasn’t certified until they arrived at the weigh-in. They felt good about their total weight of 33.76 pounds, but they were only the sixth boat to come off the water, leaving them with a lot of time for nail-biting before they were finally declared the champions.
“We were on the hot seat all day,” Louie said.
“We watched close to 50 boats weigh in and none of them had a better day than us,” Jake said.
And as for the team they were chasing?
“They only caught two fish the second day,” Jake said.
As tournament champions, the pair claimed a spot in next summer’s national championship event for this tour, but in that respect the victory was a bit bittersweet for Jake. As he’s in his senior year of high school, by the time that tournament rolls around he’ll be too old to compete. However, that doesn’t disqualify Louie. He’ll just have to find another partner, which likely won’t be too hard at all for a shot at a national championship.
On the flip side for Jake, “state champion” will certainly look good along with his other accomplishments as he markets his new bass guide service to customers.
And since Jake and Louie have been fishing together ever since they’ve been old enough to hold rods, there’s one thing age and tournament rules will never change – they’ll always be fishing buddies.
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