Four Topeka high school anglers were set to fish their final regular-season Kansas BASS Nation tournament this weekend, leaving questions about who will represent the city in the Capital City Fishing Club next season.
While the club has a few anglers from outside the city left to carry on the tradition, local stars will be difficult to come by in 2020-21 if no new teams join this fall. Shawnee Heights anglers Parker Still, Connor Brees and Ethan Haufler and Washburn Rural’s Logan Redeker all celebrated their belated graduations this month amid the coronavirus pandemic that has caused so much upheaval in the traditional senior-year experience that most students have come to expect.
The pandemic not only affected such staples as prom, state basketball and graduation ceremonies, but also the KBN fishing season, which saw events postponed for the second year in a row after heavy flooding affected some tournaments in 2019.
With the final high school qualifier moved to this Saturday, Aug. 8, at Wilson Reservoir, followed by the youth qualifier Sunday, the state championship for both seasons was pushed back until Sept. 12-13 on Bone Creek after originally being scheduled for May 2-3.
By the time the high school state championship rolls around, some of the graduated anglers will be taking college courses, while others will be beginning their respective careers.
However, they’ll all still be able to compete in the state and national championship tournaments if they qualify, according to KBN youth director Travis Burch.
"Bassmaster postponed the national championship and extended eligibility to allow us to have proper reschedule time," Burch said.
Seeking a career
Still, who was named to the Bassmaster All-State team as a junior in 2019 after his first season in 2018, will be among those starting a career after graduating, which just so happened to come about as a result of him competing on the high school circuit.
Alongside former Washburn and Hayden angler Thomas Heinen, Still began working for Burch and Carter Clond at their Kansas City-area guttering company, K-Guard Heartland, on Monday, Aug. 3. K-Guard has played a big part in sponsoring both the KBN, as well as individual anglers such as Still, since Burch took over the position from Richard Heflin in 2019.
"Richard Heflin was a great youth director and was very helpful on getting me started in the high school bass club," Still said. "The first year I started I had a blast, and was ready to fish competitively all through high school. After Richard stepped down, my boss now, Travis Burch, stepped up and became the new youth director.
"Travis has done a lot for high school bass fishing in the short time he has been the youth director and I can’t wait to see where he takes it."
Burch offered the positions to Still and Heinen earlier this summer, and the opportunity was too good for them to pass up.
"They are great kids," Burch said. "They like to joke around a little, which makes them a blast to be around, but at the same time they know how to get work done. I believe that shows in their fishing results. Life is too short not to have fun. It you went back in all our Google reviews, you'll see the common theme is our guys do a great job, work hard ... but still have the ability to make the job fun.
"Plus, you have to get up early to work for us. Fishermen are used to that."
Heinen, who started the Washburn fishing club in 2019, now leaves behind a legacy at the university, which this summer added a second team in Grant Huerter and Joshua Geither. Heinen’s teammate, Jake Brunton, also is returning on the competitive side for the club, which currently has 10 total members of varying skill levels.
"It’s definitely hard to leave Washburn," Heinen said. "You know, I established the club in February of 2019 and I am proud of getting the club up and running for future anglers of our sport. Although I didn’t plan on leaving until I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in marketing, now I have a shift of plans of pursuing an associate’s degree and starting my career.
"COVID has messed up a lot for schedules, and I figured now would be a great time to start my career off and work for K-Guard. This job opportunity will also benefit my fishing career. This will give me time to fish opens, regional events, BFLs and other popular fishing events while putting a hold on school to allow me to continue after COVID. College fishing is a blast and I wish I could still compete, but I think it’s time to expand my work and fishing career and look at the future. I had an offer too hard to pass up. Parker and I will be working together as a crew now and we will be able to chase our dreams together while working together. I have always chased the dream of competing on a higher level, and this will be my best opportunity."
Both Heinen and Still plan to compete in the adult KBN circuit in 2020-21, as well as other fishing tournaments that may be out of state. Still said he also plans to help out the younger anglers by serving as a boat captain next year, which Heinen currently does, as well.
Luckily, their new jobs give them the flexibility to still make travel plans to participate in those tournaments and follow their dreams of fishing professionally.
"I know a big thing for them was having a boss that understands fishing and needing days off for tournaments," Burch said. "Told them as long as I know six weeks in advance, they can have any days off they want. Our schedule’s usually three to four weeks out, but six gives me plenty of notice, just in case we are slammed."
Still said after his first week on the job, he can already tell he will enjoy working there. And he appreciates the opportunity to chase his fishing dreams while still earning a consistent paycheck from his day job.
"My future plans for fishing I still haven’t figured out yet, but my ultimate goal is to be able to fish professionally and fish on the FLW or BASS tour someday," Still said.
Brees, who completed the automotive program at Washburn Tech in addition to graduating from Shawnee Heights this month, also is set to begin his career as a mechanic, though he left open the possibility of returning to school later on to further his degree.
He said he’ll always look back fondly on his time fishing in the high school division alongside Still.
"It was an experience to say the least," Brees said. "It’s really a grind. We had our fun, too, but it was all about the grind to get to the top, to go make a name for ourselves, and I believe we did a good job at that. It was very competitive, we would go up against 60 to 70 guys with rough fishing along with intense cold or heat, and it was always windy. I don’t think there was a day it didn’t white cap on tournament day.
"Overall it’s a great community with great people and it’s definitely something I would recommend to someone interested in fishing competitively."
Going the college route
Redeker and Haufler, meanwhile, are heading to Barton County Community College in Great Bend this fall and will be members of the baseball team in the spring. The anglers saw success earlier this spring, winning a state title on the FLW high school bass circuit.
They will miss the final KBN qualifier this weekend as they were set to move into the dorms on Friday. However, Redeker said they both had positive memories from their time fishing in high school.
"It’s the best decision I have ever made," Redeker said about fishing in the KBN. "The memories are definitely something I will never forget. I’ve learned so much from fishing the high school tournaments that I would have never known if I would have never started. The only thing I wish I could change is that I would have started earlier into fishing the tournaments."
Redeker said he was considering fishing a few tournaments while in college if his schedule would allow. Haufler, meanwhile, said he had no plans to fish competitively in college.
"We will see what happens with baseball," Redeker said. "If I can fish a few tournaments, that would be awesome."
Carrying the torch
Topeka has a few talented up-and-coming anglers in the youth club — Topeka Jr. Hawgs — to take up the mantle for the city.
However, those anglers won’t see the high school ranks for at least another year.
The youth teams of Nick and Kyle Herrman and Avery Bowen/Laiken Emanuel are both getting set for their eighth-grade year this fall, meaning they wouldn’t be eligible for the high school circuit until the 2021-22 season.
The teams are both plenty capable of continuing the strong Topeka high school fishing legacy left by the likes of Heinen, Still, Brees, Haufler and Redeker — as well as former Seaman angler Jesse Heflin.
The Herrman brothers have been dominant this season, winning the first four qualifiers of the youth season as defending state champions ahead of Sunday’s final qualifier on Wilson. Their father, Tate, serves as boat captain and director of the youth club. He also will take the helm of the high school club this fall.
Bowen and Emanuel also have flashed glimpses of being top-tier prospects for the city in 2021-22 — though Emanuel technically lives in Ozawkie, Bowen is a Topeka resident. The team is captained by Avery’s father, Jim.
Tate Herrman said the Topeka club is still looking to add more local anglers for next season. To join the high school or youth club, contact Herrman at 785-466-6564.