In their third season as fishing partners, Manning Feldner and Noah Jones of Conway Middle School captured their first state championship last Saturday on Lake Murray near Columbia.
Buoyed by Feldner’s 7.32-pound largemouth bass, Feldner and Jones weighed in a five-fish aggregate of 16.87 pounds to finish as the top duo in the middle school division in the fourth annual S.C. Department of Natural Resources’ Youth Bass Fishing Championship.
As the only two-man team representing Conway Middle School, Feldner and Jones finished third in the team standings, finishing behind a pair of schools – Dixie Middle School (26.25 pounds) and Southside Middle School (18.64 pounds) – that had more than one team competing.
“Those kids did real well,” said Conway's coach, Capt. Rayburn Poston. “They were able to land the fish. You hear a lot of stories about kids not landing the fish.”
Poston recognized Chris Jones, Noah’s father, for his role as the team’s supervisor and boat captain.
“He was out there coaching ‘em up,” said Poston. “(Feldner and Jones) fish with their dads a lot.”
Ben Cooper and Todd Howard of Conway High School competed in the high school division and finished with an aggregate of 11 pounds. Johnny Cooper, Ben Cooper’s father, served as the duo’s captain.
Bailey Cobb and Alex Maddox of Ninety Six High School were the top duo in the high school division with an aggregate of 21.2 pounds and Dixie High School was the top high school team with a total weight of 36.77 pounds.
The event started off on March 19 at the crack of dawn at Dreher Island State Park with a total of 74 boats from 42 schools competing.
After leaving the launch site at 7:15 a.m., Feldner and Jones – both 8th-graders at Conway Middle School – decided to start fishing a pocket not far from the landing.
Jones caught a two-pound keeper just over five minutes after they started fishing on a spinnerbait.
“That took the pressure off and they both were relaxed to have a fish in the boat so early,” Chris Jones said.
The highlight of the day came soon thereafter.
“We saw a fish splashing near a tree on the bank,” recalled Chris Jones. “Noah made two casts with the spinnerbait and (got) no bite. Then Manning got into position and (on) the first cast over the area where the fish was splashing he got the bite.”
Moments later, Feldner boated the 7.32-pounder which hit a buzzbait and marked the biggest bass of his young career.
Chris Jones noted the duo had caught a five-fish limit by 10:04 a.m. and had about 14.5 pounds in the live well. The caught a few more keepers to cull their catch and by the 2 p.m. weigh-in time had increased their winning aggregate to 16.87 pounds.
Feldner’s 7.32-pound lunker was the largest caught in the middle school division and the second-largest of the tournament, just behind a 7.40-pounder weighed in by Bryson Glenn of Dixie High School.
Jones is the son of Chris and Misty Jones, and Feldner is the son of Britt and Jill Feldner, all of Conway.
“Those boys have grown so much since they started fishing together in sixth grade,” said Chris Jones, who is active in the Conway Bassmasters. “Not just their physical growth but in their attitude and teamwork. I hope they stick together through high school and continue fishing.
“If they continue to work hard and keep at it, they could be a really tough team for the adults later in life. I was real proud of them in the manner in which they handled (themselves) after the win.”