CHARLESTON, W.Va. — It’s been quite a year for Nitro High School Senior Dylan Fitzgerald. Dylan is a longtime competitor in the youth events for the B.A.S.S. Federation Nation in West Virginia. However, he’s also the two time reigning high school champion for B.A.S.S. in West Virginia.
Earlier this month, he extended his impressive fishing resume when he made the rest of the state’s adult anglers stand up and take notice. Dylan, at age 17, won the B.A.S.S. Federation Nation State Championship Tourney on Sutton Lake.
“You can’t beat catching fish on a moving bait or on topwater,” Fitzgerald told me on last weekend’s West Virginia Outdoors. “But if I had to pick a style, I’d have to go with finesse fishing because that’s what you need to do around here where our waters are so heavily pressured.”
During the state championship Dylan qualified as a non-boater, meaning he was somewhat at the mercy of his boating partner. Although the rules of the tournament give each angler control of the boat half the day, Dylan wisely chose to let his adult partner lead the way.
“I was content to fish in the back of the boat and we were fishing 30 feet of water,” he explained. “I generally don’t fish in water that deep.”
He started with a drop shot rig, but soon switched over to a jig and saw immediate success.
“I caught two fish really fast,” he said. “I didn’t put it down for the rest of the day.”
Honed in on the jig bite from day one, Fitzgerald’s confidence was soaring. However, one of the key factors in the tournament trail is how quickly you can adapt to change. His partner on Day 2 had a radically different plan. He was on fish in the upper reaches of the lake where the water was dirty and the fish were more shallow.
“I expected to go back and fish deep on the second day,” Dylan explained. “He said we were going up to fish dirty water. I was nervous, in fourth place against a bunch of adults, I never thought I’d be in this position and I had no idea what to do.”
He started out throwing the jig on day two–but the water conditions were completely different. Dylan was getting no bites, but he’s not too proud to take some help and some advice. His boating partner, Steve Marks, offered him a spinner bait…and suddenly Dylan was back in the fish.
“I give him big props. I didn’t even have a spinner bait, but he gave me one,” said Dylan. “I caught all of those fish the second day on that spinner bait. The first day I caught everything in clear water, the second day we chased dirty water as the lake was clearing up. Muddy water is where we were getting bitten on those spinner baits.”
Dylan put together a stringer to push him over the top for for the two day event and became the youngest State Champion ever and also the first to win both the High School Championship and Adult State Championship in the same year.
He’ll join the top 12 from the state tournament as part of West Virginia’s state B.A.S.S. Team at the regional hosted by the Maine B.A.S.S. Federation Nation.