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Mesa Ridge prep team hooks fishing championship

This competition was loaded with bass.

Last Saturday marked the fourth annual Colorado/New Mexico State High School Fishing Championship held at Lake Pueblo’s South Marina. Nineteen teams cast their line with one thing in mind — catch the winning prize bass.

Accompanied by just their coach, fishing rods and instinct, these high schoolers headed from shore just as the sun rose in pursuit of that prize-winning fish. Now, unlike many competitive events, fishing brings out the more relaxed side of these competitors. At least that was the case for this year’s winners.

Mesa Ridge students Josh Cundiff, a junior and Bradley Czosnyka, a senior, had their own strategy en route to winning the annual tournament.

“Goofing around,” Cundiff said. “You can’t get too tight or else you will get stressed out. We kept it light had fun and messed around half the time we were fishing and I think that was a big thing that kept us catching fish and staying confident.”

For Cundiff and Czosnyka, it was that sort of persistence that landed them the winning fish, which came late in the day and close to the end of the competition.

That winning fish weighed in at 8.90 pounds.

“We were catching all day,” Czosnyka said. “But, they were little ones, 14 inchers.”

Cundiff and Czosnyka didn’t have a lot of things going for them when the day started, making the win that much more impressive. In fact, this was their first event competing together. One of many firsts for the first-place team.

“Yesterday was my first time on the boat,” Czosnyka said. “Bass fishing was something that I picked up about two years ago. Ever since I held my first bass by the jaw it hooked me.”

From here, Cundiff and Czosnyka may no longer be able to say that they haven’t fished as a team, but they will need that same relaxed attitude as they head West.

The pair qualified for the regional tournament, which will be held in Clear Lake, Calif. This season, just one team qualified for the regional spot because only the top 10 percent from each state move on to regional.

After regional, the The Bass Association allows the top 10 percent to move on to nationals, and that is when the real prizes start. The winning team at nationals receive a $10,000 scholarship, not to mention a few bragging rights.

“Heading out to California is going to be a different kind of fishing,” said the first-time winner Cundiff. “I am going to rely on some new techniques and hopefully get bigger bass.”

Though that trip to California is the top priority for all 19 teams competing, Colorado youth director and tournament director Sam Heckman sees the bigger picture when it comes to these teenagers.

“Today was awesome,” he said. “We have 19 teams and every team caught a fish except three and that is what it is all about, to get these kids out fishing.”

Heckman has been running the tournament since the inaugural tournament in 2011.

The tournament is set up just like the competitive team bass fishing. Teams are fishing for small mouth, large mouth and spotted bass.

Each year the federation and Fishing League Worldwide, the world’s largest tournament fishing organizations, have partnered to put on the high school championships allowing teenagers to climb through the ranks.

“From here the kids can go on to college, and then the pro’s just like any other sport,” Heckman said.

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