Wyoming County Teen Shines in National Tourney

Wyoming County West Virginia isn’t the most likely place to find one of America‘s best bass fishermen.   Yet, sitting in a 7th grade classroom at Pineville Middle School, you’ll find him. 

Thirteen-year old Zach Whitten did well in the recent National Guard Junior World Bass Fishing Championships on Lake Hamilton in Hot Springs, Arkansas.    Whitten finished first in the Mid-Atlantic Division for his 11 to 14 age group and wound up finishing fifth overall.  Zach earned the right to represent the Mountain State in the national event by winning the West Virginia Bass Federation Junior Championship. 

"The first day started off pretty slow.  We used topwater and stuff, then later in the day we went to worms around high walls and docks."  Whitten told MetroNews from school recently.

The format of the championship event pairs two junior fishermen, from different age classes with a professional fisherman.  The pro operates the boat, gives guidance and advice, but does not fish.   Zach admits his first day draw didn’t hurt.    Shad Shank was the pro in the boat and North Carolina representative Shane LeHew of the 15-to-18 age group was his tournament partner.  

Zach admits, LeHew was a pretty good fisherman.

"Yeah!  He would just be sittin’ there and he would just bend down, skip it under the docks and five seconds later he’d catch a fish."  

LeHew would go on to win the entire World Championship event, but that didn’t stop him from showing high sportsmanship and offering aid to his younger competitor.

"He showed me what a ‘shaky head’ was.  You put a finesse’ worm on a shaky head, he told me how to do that.   That’s where he caught most of his big fish at, he caught a four-pounder under a dock."

The new knowledge sent Zach and his dad Darren Whitten scrambling through the local Wal-Mart on the hunt for a bag of "Shaky Heads."  

"When the kid’s like that and pros in the boat and are willing to help you and teach you…that really says a lot."  Said the elder Whitten of his son’s mentors on day one. 

Zach wound up with three bass on the first day, and enough weight to finish tops in the Mid-Atlantic Division.   He also earned a chance to fish for the money on day two of the tournament, which Zach admits was pretty poor. He and his second day partner both blanked as temperatures soared to three digits during the eight hours of fishing. 

Nearby on Lake Ouachita, Arkansas, pros on the FLW Circuit competed in their event.   Zach and all of the junior qualifiers received the best seats for that weigh-in, and Darren says they learned good days and bad days happen to everybody.

"All the kids got VIP seating for all of the pros when they weighed in. They got to see guys come in with no fish and some with 8 and 10 pounds.  The pros were the same thing as the kids, some of them had fish, some of them didn’t."

Zach finished fifth among the 35-competitiors and earned a $1,500 dollar college scholarship.    That proved to be a bonus for father and son who have another memory to add to an already strong collection.

"Me and my dad and papa go every spring and down to Georgia every fall and fish big lakes down there."  Said Zach.

"We fish quite a bit." said Darren. "My dad got me started and I just try to pass it along to him.  We fish the local rivers and go down to Georgia with my dad.  One of the local club members asked me during basketball season if he could join the club and they’d try to mentor him a little bit more.   The rest is history."

Look for Zach on the water again this year.  He’ll be the teenager who’s beating your eyes shut as you struggle for a bite.  


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