Tammy Curtis, Managing Editor
One thing is for certain, a team of Salem high school anglers have taken the nation by storm in the past five years while competing in Strike King Bassmaster High School National Championship Tournaments.
Keaton Bassham and Madison Busch have been fishing since there were very young and the passion has grown for the sport each year.
The pair and their captain, Alan Bassham, Keaton’s dad, and families made the trip to Lake Hartwell, near Greenville, N.C. on July 24 to ready for the three day tournament that began on July 27 and ran through the 29th.
Madison was the only girl from Arkansas to fish in the Nationals and one of only about 30 of the 962 anglers who participated in the tournment. “It gives me a sense of pride knowing that other girls may look up to me and lets everyone know that girls can fish too! Don’t be afraid to go after your dreams.”
The two qualified for Nationals during Arkansas Youth Bass Nation Tournament on May 16, finishing second. The pair became partners in 2021 as their families are good friends and Keaton’s previous partner had graduated and was ineligible to compete at the high school level. He then asked Madison to be his partner in the sport. Since joining up, the pair have made it to Nationals every year and Keaton has made it twice before.
Madison is a senior at Salem High School and very active in golf, is presidents of the Beta Club, and manager for the senior girls basketball team. She is also very active in her church youth group at Salem Baptist.
Keaton graduated from Salem last year. He started fishing competitively in local tournaments when he was in fourth grade with his dad. “I decided to give the high school fishing a try with my first partner in eighth grade,” he explained of his early love for the sport.
“My favorite part of fishing competitively would be the people you meet and the fact that you are fishing to win. The adrenaline knowing awards are on the line is something else. I would like to say that I could make it farther in the sport but with me going to start my career in lineman work may put a dampener on that dream. I plan to fish a few different adult tournaments and maybe one day that dream could come true,” Keaton explained.
For Madison, the sport has allowed her to meet many different people. She enjoys the hard work and dedication it takes each year to make it to Nationals. After she’s graduates and goes to college, she still plans to fish for fun and competitively every opportunity she gets.
As one would imagine, skill is involved in locating and landing the fish, but also a large part of the sport involves luck. The adrenaline of setting the hook and landing a whopper is a thrill that little else can match.
On tournament days, the teammates awaken around 4 a.m. each day, are on the lake by 6 a.m. They stand aboard the boat fishing all day in hope of catching the largest three each day for weigh-in in hope of getting on the leaderboard. But to Madison, the biggest thrill is hearing Mrs. Luci, their tournament director, call out their boat number for takeoff.
For Keaton, there are many surprises in the sport. “From catching lots of fish and then sometimes you might have something found the day before and then go out the next day and never catch a fish. Things can change drastically in a matter of hours,” he said of his experience as an angler.
Both agree their best memory of their high school fishing years is winning second place last year. “The last day, the tournament changed in three casts catching a 4.5 pounder. Madison caught another solid fish, and then the very next flip I caught a 3.5 getting our weight up enough to jump up the leader board,” he said of the memory.
Each year, the season begins in September and the pair fishes four regular tournaments, two in the spring and two in the fall. If they qualify for state, it’s typically at the first of May. They explained if at that point they don’t qualify for nationals the season ends. But if they do, Nationals is usually in late in July early August. So it is nearly a year round sport
While the team came in at a very respectable 157th out of 481, Madison told of their biggest disappointment.
“The biggest disappointment was in this year’s national tournament on Lake Hartwell when we lost a big fish that would have landed us a higher placing.”
Both Madison and Keaton have followed in the footsteps of their family members. Madison’s father, Daniel, also fishes competitively. Keaton has fished with his dad who also fishes competitively, as well as his grandfather and uncles since he was a child. The love of the sport has been handed down.
Since Madison is a senior, when the season begins in September, it will be her last year of high school angling. She has every plan to be right back where she was the last three years, at nationals.
The pair gave their families and the community praise for their support, including not only their parents, but, their sponsors and everyone who has cheered them on locally.
“My parents play a huge role in this sport. They are my biggest supporters and have to sacrifice lots of time and money for me to be able to chase this dream,” Madison explained.
Keaton echoed her sentiment. “Our parents are our biggest sponsors we could possibly ask for, whether it be our dads captaining the boat or just finding us places to stay and planning everything out. If it wasn’t for them we would not have all the nice things that we have to be able to do this sport.”
Besides fishing, Keaton attends church at the Thayer church of Christ and is planning to enter lineman school and obtain a job at the local electric cooperative. His love for outdoors is mirrored in other pastimes including participating in trap shooting while in high school as well as hunting, working and riding around the family farm.
He credits his dad with him being the only of his siblings to have caught the fishing bug. “I did love watching my dad fishing local tournaments and such and that’s what started my love for the sport. I would like to add that my dad and tournament director got the school fishing team set up. It has now grown to multiple teams fishing under the program that they built. I hope to see many more kids get interested in this sport. Some kids don’t have interest in sports offered at the school directly so it gives kids an opportunity to do something out of the ordinary.”
Come fall, while Keaton moves on from high school fishing, the hook has been set for others who have watched he and Madison’s journey to fall in love with the sport.
And, no doubt Madison will be landing lunkers all season long and headed to Nationals for the fourth time.