Two young bass anglers from Madison County have qualified for a national fishing tournament in Tennessee this summer.
Cousins Matthew Sisk and Dugger Tipton, both Huntsville students, came in second place at the B.A.S.S. (Bass Anglers Sportsman Society) State Fishing Tournament’s Junior Division at Lake Hamilton in Hot Springs June 2-3. The top two teams qualified for the national tournament.
The duo placed second by one ounce, catching 9.1 pounds over two days. The final fish, caught by Tipton, came two minutes before the end of fishing on day two.
That one ounce was enough to beat another Huntsville pair – Kurt Ferguson and Christian Scott – for second place.
Sisk and Tipton will represent their home state at the Nationals on Carroll County One Thousand Recreational Lake near Huntingdon, Tenn. They will have practice days on July 29 and 30, register and attend a barbecue and briefing on July 30, then fish on July 31 and Aug. 1.
The pre-fishing activities will be staged at Bethel University in McKenzie, Tenn.
Anglers can fish not only in the main lake, but in “all rivers, creeks and canals connected to Carroll County Lake,” according to the B.A.S.S. website.
Matthew is the son of James and Melanie Sisk of Hindsville. Dugger is the son of Chad and Jerri Faye Tipton, who have a farm in the Alabam/Forum area.
Matthew Sisk also plays basketball, football and runs track at Huntsville, while Dugger plays football.
Chad Tipton served as captain for the pair on Lake Hamilton. He operates the big motor, but Matthew operates the trolling motor. The captain can also offer advice during timeouts and breaks in the fishing, Matthew said.
Chad Tipton will pull his boat to the Tennessee tournament. Both boys fish from the boat, Matthew said.
Matthew and James Sisk fish together in tournaments, while the Tiptons do the same. Last week, they had their first night tournament at Table Rock Lake in Missouri. They’ve also fished Bull Shoals and Beaver lakes.
Matthew, 14, will be in the ninth grade this fall. Dugger, 13, will be in the eighth.
Earlier this year, Sisk and Tipton were named Anglers of the Year for their local club, which involves more than 20 teams in northwest Arkansas. That qualified them to fish at Lake Hamilton.
James Sisk said he and the boys would like to see a high school team assembled.
“We’re hoping that we can get a high school team actually put together,” he said. A total of 19 high school teams fished at Lake Hamilton.
Matthew said his first trip to Lake Hamilton, a popular playground for anglers, skiers, boaters and more, “was tough.” He said the duo battled the traffic, heat and wind.
“I jumped in,” Dugger said when discussing the heat. “During one of the breaks, I just dove in.” Sisk said he also took a plunge in the lake.
After day one, when they returned to their cabin, Sisk and Tipton spent hours fishing from the dock. They landed several fish from the dock, including one over 3 pounds. Both fathers praised their sons and their dedication to get better as anglers.
Matthew and Dugger weighed in 3.88 pounds of bass on day one, then caught 5.22 pounds the second day. All the fish were caught on crank baits, lures that run deep and mimic the looks and action of bait fish, crawfish and such.
Chad said he doesn’t offer much advice while the boys fish.
“It doesn’t really matter. Those boys do it all themselves,” he said.
Matthew said that during the two days of practice fishing at Lake Hamilton, they “found two good coves and a couple of good points.” They started out fishing along the banks with “hollow frogs,” then went out into the lake to fish points.
“We lost some good ones,” Dugger said. “[The fish] were just coming up and grabbing the back of the crank bait.”
The weekend was tough for both of the fishermen, Dugger said.
“Both of us had really tough days,” Dugger said. “He had a good day the first day of the tournament and I had the good day the second day.”
The two have been fishing partners since they were about 5 years old.
“They’ve grown really, really well together out there,” Chad Tipton said. “It’s amazing to watch how they’ve gotten better as a team.”
When the team reaches Carroll County Lake for practice, Dugger said they will “first go out and look at the graphs” to spotlight underwater structures. Matthew added, “and look at depths.”
The final day will be televised on the show Bassmasters on ESPN.
Matthew didn’t hesitate when asked about which method of fishing he likes best.
“Fast. I will fish slow if you tell me to, but I like fast fishing,” he said, meaning lures such as spinner baits and crank baits.
Dugger, however, said he likes to fish “slow, [with] finesse,” with worms and jigs.
James Sisk said he’s most impressed with the boys’ maturity level.
“If there was any flack, I’ve never heard a cross word between them,” he said.
Matthew tried to put into words why fishing is so rewarding for a 14-year-old.
“It’s just the fact of going out there, having something fake on, just throw it out there and manage to catch something,” he said. “It’s like hunting, but you get more out of it, I think.”
Luci Johnson of Prairie Grove a few years ago formed a youth tournament group called Arkansas Youth Anglers. That first year, there were 12 students involved. Currently, there are 54 high school anglers and 16 junior anglers in the group, representing 19 schools in northwest Arkansas.
The Arkansas Youth Anglers is considered a community club by B.A.S.S.
The group’s next season will start in September and those involved will fish one tournament a month.
“I find there’s more and more kids out there who have the love and compassion but there isn’t anything offered out there for kids,” she said. “It’s either you pond fish or you fish adult tournaments.”
She’s also impressed with Matthew Sisk and Dugger Tipton, who will fish against juniors from 48 states at the nationals in Tennessee.
“They are fantastic young anglers,” she said. “I can’t say enough good things about them,” Johnson said. “They’re wonderful kids. They come from great parents, they’re driven. I can’t wait to see where they take this.
“I’ve been in the fishing world for 26 years. This is my very first year to do junior high fishing. This year I had 16 junior anglers. These young kids are die-hard.”
Johnson’s own son, a junior at Prairie Grove High School, began fishing in the seventh grade.
For more information about Arkansas Youth Anglers, call Johnson at 479-644-8340 or visit their Facebook page.