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HOOKED ON EAST TEXAS: Dynamic high school fishing duo

Grace Community High school sophomores Garrett Smith and Sam Reeves will be competing in the 2023 high school angler of the year challenge in June.

TYLER, Texas — Two sophomores from Grace Community High School will compete in the Texas High School Bass Association State Angler of the Year tournament in late June.

CBS19 went fishing with the dynamic duo, Garrett Smith and Sam Reeves, to see what it took to qualify for this unique and special fishing tournament.

On this fishing trip, they caught fish like they did when they won the East Division, Texas High School Bass Association Angler of the year series. They finished first out of 180 teams.

“Man it feels pretty good. Feels good to just, you know, know that he beat everybody this year," Smith said.

But Reeves told us the victory wasn’t easy. 

“Well, that morning, we caught two and then it was slow for hours and then we just randomly hit a little spurt just started catching them," Reeves recalled.

“We beat them by like just a couple points and it was close. We were pretty nerve-wracking there," Smith recalled.

The bass team administrator Keith Baty is also pretty good at fishing too.

“This is (the) second year they've been with me," Baty said as he tossed back a small bass. "They did great last year, (they) went to the state tournament and then Anglers of the Year this year, so it's been a good deal.” 

This angling team also teams up on the high school baseball team but fishing offers an extra perk. 

"My favorite part is obviously getting out of school, which we get out on Fridays," Reeves said. "But I love fishing, I did that with my brother. He also finished in high school and one of the same things we did."

Keeping it in the family, their boat captain is Smiths grandfather, CJ O’Neal. He told us how he helps prep the duo for each tournament.

“Well, first and foremost, be sure they follow the rules to hunt fish and find them for them, because it's more fun for them to catch fish and not catch fish. And if you're out here all day, and don't catch him, to me that's defeating the purpose and it's not doing him any good," O'Neal said.

CJ’s taught his grandson that consistency is the key.  

"So if you get five decent fish then you should be pretty good," Smith said. "You know and then every once in a while, you'll get those people that know they'll catch four dinks and then they just get that big kicker."  

When we think about college scholarship money, we're think about sports or academic scholarships but high school fishing offers a lot of scholarship money for college. For instance winning angler of the year has brought both, Reeves and Smith a lot of scholarship money: three thousand dollars. 

Matt Tolnay is with the Texas High School Bass Association and he said every year the organization hands out nearly a half-million dollars in scholarship money. 

“What we’ve come to find out in the last few years is that a lot of junior colleges and major colleges are offering full rides for fishing," Tolnay said. "What we're able to start doing with the help of their school programs at the school level is kids are getting a lot better at angling at a younger age and when they move into college angling, it’s changing the whole dynamic of college angling because everybody’s good." 

The Grace Community High School fishing team has grown over the years, thanks to Reeves and Smith. 

The Texas High School Bass Association Angler of the year challenge takes place the last weekend of June on Lake Palestine.

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