Josh Rouse: Hays fishing club scrambles to replace stolen trailer, gear ahead of tournament season; Topekans eye pros

Topeka anglers Heinen, Still announce plans to pursue professional fishing careers

Josh Rouse
Topeka Capital-Journal
Jack Bever, of Lawrence, holds up his 6.87-pound largemouth bass he caught during the 20th annual Hays Bass Anglers Association Big Bass Challenge on Sept. 12, 2020, at Wilson Reservoir in Kansas.
  • Thief makes off with trailer, equipment totaling $5,000
  • Dates announced for Hays club's open tournaments
  • Two Topeka anglers seeking professional bass fishing career

The Hays Bass Anglers Association has had a rough go of it lately.

No, not from a lack of quality fishing — in fact, the fishing has been on fire the past few years at nearby Wilson Reservoir, according to tournament director Klint VonFeldt — but from a senseless crime.

On Nov. 19, 2020, the association discovered its new trailer for conducting tournaments, including youth events, had been stolen after just two months — a loss of more than $5,000 including its content. The trailer also contained more than a dozen fishing Zebco rods and reels used for an annual fishing event with children from Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Ellis County, as well as targets used for the Kids Casting Competition that takes place each year at the Youth Outdoor Festival in Hays.

I'd personally like to encourage those who can spare some extra money for a good cause to help out any way they can, whether by donating poles and gear or giving cash donations to help them replace their lost equipment so they can continue to serve both youth and adult anglers in the state. I've had fishing gear taken from my truck before, so I know the feeling and hate to see something like this happen from a club that benefits so many people.

I know there are plenty of people like me who read this column and feel the same way.

Those wishing to donate money or equipment to help the club replace what was stolen can do so by contacting club member Steven Hausler, of Ellis, at 785-623-1782. Steve is a longtime Kansas BASS Nation member and was even lucky enough to get to attend the 50th Bassmaster Classic just before COVID-19 hit as the state's conservation director at the time. That role is currently filled by Salina’s Dell Mettlen Jr. following November's officer elections, though Steve still serves as the Hays club's conservation director.

While that case is still open — those with information about the theft are asked to contact the Hays Police Department at 785-625-1011 — the show must go on.

The HBAA on Jan. 6 announced the dates of several open tournaments for the 2021 season, which are open to the public.

The Wilson Open event dates are:

• 5 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 24, Wilson Reservoir

• 5 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 15, Wilson Reservoir

• 5 a.m. to 3 p.m. June 12, Wilson Reservoir

The entry fee for each of those events is $150 per two-man team, with a high-stakes side pot of $100 per team with 100% payback for two places at a 60/40 split. The regular pot will pay out 80%, with one place paid for every seven boats that enter. Five live fish will be weighed per team, with Wilson enforcing a 15-inch minimum length limit on black bass. Nonpenetrating cull clips are required, and all BASS tournament rules will be enforced.

Club members also can participate in several club tournaments throughout the year, which are listed on the Outdoor calendar in your paper and at CJOnline.com.

In addition, the 21st annual Big Bass Challenge was previously announced in November. The event will take place from 5 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 11 and will be at Wilson, as well.

Last year's big winner was Jack Bever, of Lawrence, who caught a 6.87-pound largemouth bass while fishing with his father, Jim Bever, of Hutchinson, on Sept. 12, 2020.

For more information about these tournaments or the Hays Bass Anglers Association in general, contact Klint VonFeldt at 785-650-1733 or visit https://www.haysbass.com/.

STOLEN EQUIPMENT

Those with information about the theft of Hays Bass Anglers Association's trailer filled with fishing equipment are asked to contact the Hays Police Department at 785-625-1011. Those wishing to donate money or equipment to help the club replace what was stolen can do so by contacting club member Steven Hausler, of Ellis, at 785-623-1782.

Topekans pursue pro fishing dreams

A pair of Topeka anglers are officially taking the first steps toward pursuing their longtime dreams of fishing professionally.

Hayden graduate Thomas Heinen, who fished collegiately at Washburn University, and Shawnee Heights product Parker Still both made announcements this month about their future plans, with Heinen planning to take on the Bassmaster Open, while Still is planning to focus on Major League Fishing's Toyota Series. Both of these are entry-level circuits, with lower entry fees and payouts compared to the higher-level circuits.

Thomas Heinen

Still will partner with Kansas State fishing team alumni Sheldon Rogge, of small-town Green in Clay County, in the two-man tournament series, which kicks off March 4-6 on the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri. Rogge has fished the Toyota series for the past two years, appearing in seven tournaments as a pro. He has $3,713 in career earnings, according to the MLF website.

Now, Still gets his chance to make a living doing what he loves, as well.

"Still doesn’t feel real actually," Still said, laughing. "Ever since I’ve started competing in bass tournaments, it’s been a dream and a goal of mine to fish on the big stage. I’ve spent many early, cold mornings and long days on the water to get where I’m at today and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. I still have a lot to learn and I feel like going into my first year on the road and being a co-angler, it’s gonna help tremendously."

Parker Still

Heinen will fish as a co-angler on the Bassmaster Open circuit, as well, but will be matched up with random anglers rather than having a set teammate. That should be familiar territory for Heinen, who earned the Flint Hills Bass Association's Nonboater of the Year award five years in a row and became the first co-angler in recent memory to earn Angler of the Year honors in the FHBA this fall, as well. His career officially kicks off on April 1-3 at Lewis Smith Lake in Jasper, Ala., with the first of three Central Opens. The second open is slated for April 29-May 1 at Pickwick Lake in Tennessee, with the third open Oct. 21-23 at Grand Lake in Grove, Okla. Heinen plans to fish all three opens, as well as some events in the Phoenix Bass Fishing League — which basically serves as a minor-league circuit for Major League Fishing.

"Feels great, man," Heinen said. "I have dreamed about fishing in the Bassmaster Opens for a while now. I’m pumped. The opens I think are the best way to make fishing a professional career. I am going mainly to learn. I want to learn how people from all over the U.S. break down a lake. I want to learn as much as I can this year to make the future better. If a win comes along the way, then that would be awesome, but this 2021 season will be strictly for learning."

Heinen said gaining experience in different regions is key to being successful at the next level.

"The more tournaments I fish out of Kansas, the better I’ll be," he said. "These opens are always 'humblers' for good fishermen. Many succeed and many fail. I hope I can do a little of both to learn from my mistakes."