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High school bass champions

Bismarck anglers capture North Dakota High School Bass Fishing title

Submitted Photo Logan Bullinger, 15, left, and Brandon Bullinger, 17, right, won the North Dakota High School Bass Fishing title May 10 at Nelson Lake. Both are students at Bismarck Century High School. The Bullingers advance to the national championship June 23 at LaCrosse, Wis.

CENTER – It had to be postponed a day and there was a last minute rule change, but the North Dakota High School Bass Fishing championship was finally held on Nelson Lake.

The event was scheduled to be held at the lake warmed by discharge from the Milton R. Young coal power plant on Saturday, May 9, but a forecast of wind in excess of 30 miles per hour led tournament organizers to postpone for a day, moving the event to Sunday, May 10. The wind was minimal on the tenth. Unfortunately, so was the temperature.

“I think it was 23 degrees at the launch,” said Heather Bullinger, co-chairman. “It was cold but still doable. At least the sun was shining.”

With a water temperature much warmer than the air temperature, an eerie fog covered much of the lake at the outset. No matter. Visibility was deemed sufficient for safe boat operation and there were six eager teams of young fishermen participating. Each boat had two fishermen and a boat operator. Boat operators were not allowed to a give advice or make suggestions to the anglers.

That the championship would be held at all was, for a time, in doubt. The format for holding a state tournament under the national guidelines of the Student Angler Federation requires that the team with the highest weight of bass at the end of fishing hours be declared the winner. The rule required that the bass be kept in a livewell and brought to the weigh-in.

At certain permitted bass tournaments in North Dakota the release of fish after the weigh-in is allowed. However, since the High School Bass Fishing championship did not charge an entry fee, no Game and Fish permit was required. It also meant fish brought to the weigh-in could not be released back into the lake in accordance with state fishing regulations.

“We would have had to cancel because these fishermen wouldn’t kill these fish,” said Bullinger. “At the last minute we had to try and figure how to work it out so the students could still participate and not keep and kill fish.”

Fortunately, an okay was received from the national office of the Student Angler Federation to allow anglers to use the length of their fish to determine placements rather than weight. Fish were caught, photographed and entered in the Fish Donkey app using cell phones.

“That app is fantastic and they are amazing people to work with,” remarked Bullinger. “You take a picture of the fish on a bump board, another holding it up and it automatically calculates the standings. Fishermen were judged on their longest five fish.”

For the winning team of Brandon, 17, and Logan Bullinger, 15, both students at Bismarck Century High School, it marked a bit of redemption after narrowly missing a win a year earlier when they were a mere 0.08 ounces out of first place.

The Bullingers’ winning length of five largemouth bass was 98.25 inches. Second place went to West Fargo High School seniors Wyatt Bradley and Zayne Brunette with 88.75 inches. Third place, 88.0 inches, was claimed by Bismarck High School freshmen Hunter Acker and Carsyn Sebastian.

“It was very exciting and all want to fish again later this summer,” said Bullinger.

Bullinger was referring to two qualifying events and a state championship to be held yet this year on dates to be determined. The overall winners will qualify for the 2021 national championship with ample time to prepare for travel. The champions at the recent Nelson Lake event have a quick turnaround. This year’s nationals are scheduled for June 23 at LaCrosse, Wis.

Participation in high school bass fishing events in North Dakota is expected to increase as the coronavirus pandemic eases and more youth discover the opportunity. Further information can be found on Facebook at North Dakota Student Angler Federation or at highschoolfishing.org.

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