Photos by Frank Couch.
When it comes to who is the better fisherman between the two brothers, they both agree that although he’s three years younger, Anthony, right, takes the title.
Joe and Anthony Wehby have caught over 3,500 fish in their lifetime, but it only took three to send the Hoover High School bass fishing team to the state championship.
Though tournament rules allow each team to weigh up to five fish, Joe said three were all he and his brother needed.
“We don’t go to just fill out a five-fish limit like most other kids,” Joe said. “When we go, we go to catch quality fish.”
The brothers’ three fish, weighing in at 6½ pounds, earned them a spot as the first of many Hoover High pairs projected to qualify for the Alabama Bass Nation High School Championship scheduled for June 9-10 at Wheeler Lake in Decatur.
As members of the Hoover bass fishing team, Joe and Anthony join 35 other Hoover High anglers for semimonthly meetings to discuss all things bass fishing and prepare for upcoming tournaments.
Joe, now a senior, joined the team after hearing an announcement on the intercom as a freshman. This is the first year he has been able to compete alongside his brother Anthony, who is a freshman.
Though the two are competing as a team for the first time, they’ve been fishing together since they were kids growing up in Oklahoma, where they fished for bluegill with their dad, uncle and grandfather.
For them, fishing is less about competing and more about enjoying the great outdoors. Joe said while he’s seen other anglers get bent out of shape trying to catch the biggest fish, he cares more about having fun.
“I mean I want to do good,” he said. “But I also just like to go out there, enjoy God’s creation and have a good time. Whether we go out there and catch 25 or 30 fish or zero, it’s still always a good time being able to get away.”
Joe and Anthony said the key to successful fishing comes through having three main characteristics: patience, confidence and a good sense of humor. For Anthony, having confidence when handling equipment and reeling in fish is extremely important, and for Joe, confidence goes even further.
“If you go out there and you’re like, ‘I’m not going to catch anything,’ you’re not going to be determined enough to pick up your rod and make thousands of casts trying to get those five bites you need to win a tournament,” Joe said.
When it comes to who is the better fisherman between the two brothers, they both agree that although he’s three years younger, Anthony takes the title. Joe contends that some of Anthony’s success has been luck and that he’s not far behind.
Listening to the two talk about their love for recreational fishing, it’s easy to forget that they’re not just two high school kids casting a couple lines. It takes something as simple as asking what type of bait they use to be reminded of their high level of expertise. They describe the Texas rig style bait (where bait is attached to weight and dragged along the lake floor) plus jigs, spinners and crankbaits with as much as ease as if they’re explaining how to pour a bowl of cereal.
Vance Traffanstedt, whose son Drew has been competing on the team since the seventh grade, is one of the team’s sponsors. He said the Wehbys have represented the team well with several top 25 and top 10 finishes already this fall.
“They’re two kids that really know what they’re doing, and they’re just an asset to the team,” he said.
On tournament days, the business of preparing is no child’s play. The brothers generally wake up around 2:30 a.m. to load their equipment, prepare their rods and hit the road, only stopping for breakfast before arriving at the tournament location by 4:30 or 5 a.m. The two then set about prepping their boat by making sure the plug is in, taking all the scraps out and picking up their boat number from officials.
At the first hint of daylight, somewhere between 6:30 and 7 a.m., the boys recite the Pledge of Allegiance with tournament officials and then wait for their number to be called. Then they finally set off with their father Richard Wehby, their tournament-required boat captain, to fish until their scheduled weigh-in time around 2:30 p.m.
The boys’ strategy for each tournament is to pre-fish the lake a few days before to get a feel for potential patterns in where the fish are or what they’re eating. They mark three to four main spots on their fish finder and rotate between those spots on tournament days.
After seven or eight hours on the water, the boys come in to weigh their fish, an event which they said draws quite a crowd. Teams set up tents and plenty of food around the weigh-in stage. Parents and supporters serve as the audience for the anglers who take turns weighing their fish on stage while answering questions about strategies they used to catch their fish.
As for the state championship tournament, Joe and Anthony have a couple of goals in mind. The first, they said, is obviously to win, especially over Hayden High School, one of the superpower teams competing in high school bass fishing. But more than that, Joe and Anthony said they’re looking to earn some respect for Hoover’s team.
“We’re gradually getting better, so if we were to win one of those big tournaments, that would be a big deal as being a part of Hoover’s fishing team,” Joe said.
A win could also mean the beginnings of a professional bass fishing career for the boys. A title like state champions, they said, is enough to get noticed by sponsors, who are essential when working up to a professional fishing career.
For now, the two are happy continuing to fish together, whether at a big weekend tournament or neighborhood pond after school.
“I’m going to fish ’til I can’t fish no more,” Joe said. “Just because I enjoy it that much.”