They may have already graduated, but the Handley fishing duo of Kyle Knoll and Evan Pike aren’t done with their high school careers just yet.
The pair earned a spot in the high school national championship tournament after they were named Alabama’s Anglers of the Year in the south division following their fourth-place finish in the final regional qualifier at Lay Lake June 20.
That award gives them an automatic berth in the national tournament and makes them one of the favorites at the Alabama state tournament in Guntersville later this month.
The Angler of the Year distinction is no accident for Knoll, who has occupied the lead boat for Handley’s fishing team for the past two seasons. Knoll chalks his success up to two traits – preparation and hard work.
“It takes a lot of time on the water,” he said. “You can’t just go out there one weekend and fish and win something.”
Knoll routinely scouts out the competition lake well in advance of the actual tournament, and Pike – who is Knoll’s partner for the first time this year – has bought in to just how effective that preparation can be.
“We start going on weekends probably a month before everybody else does,” Pike said. “We pre-fish before the pre-fish.”
That familiarization helps them find suitable locations to drop their lines, so they have a good idea of where they are headed as soon as the tournament launches.
And there are specific things that Knoll looks for when he’s selecting his fishing locales.
“I like fishing offshore, which is stuff off the bank. Not a lot of people look for that,” he said. “So ledges, which is where it goes from shallow to deep real quick; brush piles, rock piles, stuff like that.”
Once they find a suitable location their most important tool then becomes their depth finder. Spotting potential catches on the depth finder and determining how deep those fish are in the water helps Knoll and Pike decide on what types of lures and baits to use.
“Like if I see them on the bottom then they’re going to want to bite a worm or even a crank bait,” Knoll said. “But if they’re suspended up that’s when you want to throw a swim bait or get on top of them even and throw the drop shot down.”
The strategy has worked to perfection this season as Knoll and Pike didn’t finish any lower than fifth place in any of the three regional qualifiers this year. They even claimed a first-place finish at Lake Eufaula, boosted by a 6-plus pound catch by Pike.
“A big fish in a tournament is a four pounder,” Knoll said.
That first-place finish ultimately was the difference maker in the race for Angler of the Year. The award is determined by each team’s top two finishes in the three regional qualifiers. Knoll and Pike had a first-place and a fourth-place finish as their top two, which was enough to edge out their closest competition, which finished with a fourth-place and a second-place.
“We got it by one point,” Knoll said.
The duo will return to competition at the state tournament, which starts July 24 on Lake Guntersville. The national tournament will take place at Kentucky Lake in Paris, Tenn., sometime in October.
By that time Knoll will be enrolled at Southern Union as a member of the Bison fishing team, but he said that’s not going to stop him from going up against the nation’s best high school anglers.
“I’m going. I don’t know if they’ll let me miss class or if I’ll have to skip, but I’m going,” he said.