MORRIS — Bryce Mahnke has been fishing since he was two years old. Eyin Stanford started doing it on a regular basis just a year ago, but he has taken to it fully.
The two combined to use their knowledge and experience to take third place at the IHSA Heidecke Lake Bass Fishing Sectional and advance to this weekend's state tournament at Carlyle Lake, a four-hour drive from Morris. During the sectional, Mahnke and Stanford caught fish weighing a combined 8 pounds, 1 ounce. Champion Minooka, featuring BassMaster All-American Alec Berens, caught 9 pounds, 2 ounces and Plainfield South was second with 8 pounds, 15 ounces.
The state tournament is a two-day event which will take place Friday and Saturday. The teams will have Thursday to pre-fish the lake and get a feel for the surroundings.
Both Mahnke and Stanford are fishermen to the core, although their paths have been a bit different.
"I have been fishing at the Rod & Gun Club in Morris since I was two years old," Mahnke said. "All summer, I am out there. The mornings for me are just shorts, no shirt, no shoes, a cup of coffee and my fishing rod. I catch mostly largemouth bass there, but there are some walleye, too."
Though Stanford is fairly new to the game, he isn't any less passionate than Mahnke.
"I have been learning from the people who fish by the Illinois River," he said. "I talk to the local fisherman a lot and ask them a lot of questions. I think I annoy them with all the questions I ask, but I have learned a lot from them. I love to fish and learn about fishing. I ride my bike down to the river all the time."
Stanford has also spent a little time fishing at the Rod & Gun Club, and it was there that he and Mahnke learned to fish along a grass shoreline. Although the Heidecke Lake shoreline consists mostly of rocks, they were able to find some grass during the sectional and fished in it. With the knowledge they had of fishing in those conditions, they were able to bring in enough to qualify for the state tournament.
"They had never fished Heidecke Lake except for one afternoon after school a couple of days before the tournament," Morris coach Shawn Hornsby said. "They finished third at sectionals and beat many anglers with much more experience on Heidecke because the fish turned out to be in the grass the day of the sectional tournament instead of along the rock banks where they have always been in the past.
"Eyin and Bryce fished the grass the whole tournament even though 90 percent of the bank of that lake is rock."
"We found some grass at sectionals and did what was comfortable to us," Mahnke said. "We had been preparing for that moment, but we just didn't know it at the time."
The pair of sophomores - Stanford is 15 and Mahnke is 16 - are excited about the prospect of fishing in the state tournament.
"Our goal is go down there, catch some fish and have fun," Mahnke said. "We can just do the best we can and hope the fish are biting."
"It's amazing how these guys have done considering how young they are," Hornsby said. "I called Eyin before the sectional because I needed to send them his age and a copy of his fishing license. He's only 15 and didn't need a fishing license.
"There is a lot of skill involved in fishing. These guys will stick with what they know, which is a lot. The great thing is that they are always looking to learn."
Both Stanford and Mahnke are so eager to learn that they have called bait shops near Carlyle Lake to ask how the fishing has been and what the fish have been biting on.
"We want to learn everything we can," Stanford said. "It's going to be fun."