The young man on the front deck of the black Triton aluminum bass boat with a 115-h.p. Merc focused on the task at hand like a veteran bass angler on Nov. 2.
He pitched underhand with a flick of his right wrist as flawlessly as an accomplished pro. And, most importantly, he set the hook and put bass in the boat like one of those men he looks up to so much, who inspired him to follow in their footsteps.
That Hunter Neuville of Loreauville was pitching a ¼-ounce black/blue All-Terrain Tackle Finesse Jig with a june bug Cajun Lures Crackin’ Craw spoke volumes about how advanced he is as a bass angler at age 16. The Highland Baptist Christian School junior on the HBCS Fishing Team was fishing with an artificial lure he rarely had fished with this past year in one of his biggest high school tournaments of 2019. The fishing rod with that bait was in his hand for the longest time because he believed he’d get bit in the scenic bayous and canals on the northern part of Lake Verret.
His day began before 3 a.m. He loaded his fishing tackle in the “captain’s” boat the night before, so he just had to grab a sandwich and a few bottled waters that morning and drive to the captain’s house in New Iberia.
He checked in at Doiron’s Landing in Stephensville at approximately 4:45 a.m., backed the boat off the boat trailer on the Stephensville side about an hour later and, along with his captain, waited with a majority of 200 boats for the safe daylight start of the Louisiana High School B.A.S.S. Nation East Qualifier.
Neuville, who fished Wednesday Night Hawg Fights Bass Tournament Series this year, wavered on his destination as he weighed the potential of three different areas, two on the other side of the West Atchafalaya Basin Protection Levee, where he considered fishing the Bayou Teche and a borrow pit along the Atchafalaya River near Morgan City, and Stephensville. He went with his gut feeling and put down on the Stephensville side.
After the parade boat, replete with a large American flag, idled through dozens of boats before the start with a bass tournament song blaring as the sun peeked over the horizon, a prayer and the Star Spangled Banner, numbers were called out for the takeoff. Neuville’s boat left first.
Approximately 40 minutes later, after directing the captain to and across the lake using the GPS on his Smartphone, Neuville was in the canal he’d been thinking about all week, one he’d never been in before.
The post-cold front conditions, replete with a high, blue sky, proved to be a challenge. His hands still were numb from the cold ride but he started pitching, shaking each hand alternately to warm it up.
His deft casts shot out from the tip of the fishing rod, with no or very little arc, for 10 to 15 yards, depending on the target. The finesse jig and, later for the rest of the day, mostly, a watermelon/rouge Cajun Lures Cochon, landed with a soft, almost imperceptible plop each time right on target.
He’d shake it and let it fall with the slack, work it a few times, and repeat. Constantly, machine-like.
“It’s almost 9:30. It doesn’t seem like I’ve been fishing that long,” he said.
The look on his face when the first bass bit, then paid the price with a trip to the boat’s livewell, said it all. This, apparently, is what he was born to do. That was at his first stop after an hour or two. At his third stop, he caught two more, the second of those at 11:29 a.m.
“Only three more,” Neuville said after depositing his second keeper in the livewell.
That bass was his biggest, perhaps pushing 2 pounds. The son of Tony and Donna Neuville was retrieving the soft plastic creature bait when, suddenly, he snapped the rod tip up, hard, to set the hook.
“Yeahhhhhhh,” he said after the short fight in which the keeper bass went airborne once.
“I didn’t feel him hit it or anything. He was just on there. I’m already doing better than the last tournament.”
He was in another section on the upper end of the lake, moving around looking for the fourth and fifth keeper bass of the day. He got the fourth one in his hands at 12:55, a little less than 2 hours before his flight’s weigh-in at 2:45 p.m.
The limit never materialized but not for a lack of effort.
“If I could get one more decent fish,” he said, realizing that would push him closer to his goal of qualifying for nationals.
Any one of three fair to good bites that he didn’t connect on might have done it, particularly the one that bit in a green brushtop and got him hung up, or the one at 1:08 p.m. that resulted in a swing and a miss.
“I don’t know how I missed that one. He was swimming off with it … how the others were doing it. He must not have had it good,” he said.
Neuville’s four bass weighed 5.18 pounds, good enough for 47th place.
Neuville enjoyed the weigh-in, which his mother and his niece attended, and looked ahead to next season. After all, he had given it his all.