DAN KIBLER COLUMN: Salisbury teen is on national bass-fishing stage

Published 4:55 pm Friday, June 21, 2024

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Last month, when most high-school seniors were worrying about final exams, diplomas and graduation ceremonies, Hayden Hammond of Salisbury was worried about catching bass.

Dan Kibler

He spent the week before graduation on South Carolina’s Lake Hartwell, fishing in the second stop of the National Professional Fishing League’s 2024 tournament trail.
Hammond finished roughly in the middle of the pack of 124 bass pros over three days on Hartwell, drove home, then took an exam two days after arriving back in Rowan County.
“I had four exams to take that week,” he said.
An 18-year-old who grew up in China Grove before a recent move to the Long Ferry area east of Salisbury, has been fishing competitively since middle school. As rising 8th-graders, Hammond and his partner finished second in the 2019 Bassmaster Junior Championship in Tennessee. He is a two-time North Carolina high-school bass-fishing champion and has qualified for the nationals three times.
Last year was his first on a national fishing circuit, the NPFL, and he took home $7,500 and finished 46th in the 2023 Angler of the Year standings – as a high-school junior.
“I grew up fishing,” Hammond said. “Badin Lake is where I learned to fish. My dad is more of a saltwater guy; he didn’t want me to go into bass fishing, but Paul Benson (an NPFL official) gave him an invitation to get me in last year. It took some time managing school and fishing. It was a real time-management deal.”
When Hammond decided that bass-fishing might be a possible career, he took steps to make it happen. He finished his freshman year at Jesse Carson H.S. in China Grove, then moved to an online, homeschool curriculum for his next three years. It allows him to manage school around the time he has to spend on the water (a week-long tournament, six times a year), along with working for his father as a manufacturer’s representative for fishing-tackle companies.
The time he’s spent riding up and down the highways of both Carolinas — and burning up the telephone lines keeping his fishing-tackle lines in retail outlets — helped him get enough sponsors to defray much of the costs associated with professional bass fishing, including entry fees, truck and boat fuel and meals and lodging. Some of his sponsors include: Falcon boats, Yamaha outboards, Reclanding.com, Ark Fishing (rods and reels), Woods to Water Outdoors, Gill Fishing, Toad Thumper (lures) and Bajio sunglasses.
“The first year was more of a learning experience,” Hammond said. “I wasn’t expecting to win or cash a check in every tournament; it was more of a learning experience. I did good at Pickwick (a lake on the Alabama-Tennessee-Mississippi border) and made a check ($7,500). Now, I’m getting more of a field for things. I’m more into the swing of things.
“(NPFL) is more family friendly; it’s the right place for me to learn. I can get used to everything about fishing different lakes, and I can still work and be an 18-year-old. It’s a lot more flexible.”
Down the road, he wants to qualify for the NPFL’s season-ending tour championship and build a career that might last 20 or 30 years — a career that can mesh with his job repping his fishing products. Down the road, it’s likely to be easier — with no homework to worry about.
“Fishing and school was definitely tiring,” he said. “A lot of times when you fish all day, you don’t feel like doing anything else. It’s definitely a lot having to juggle both of them. After a tournament day, you’ve got to come home and do your tackle, and it’s 8:30 or 9 by the time you get to study. When you’re getting up at 4, you’re ready to go to bed.”
The online, homeschooled regimen allowed him plenty of flexibility. He was able to map out the hours he needed to study every day and fit them in with fishing and working with his customers and dealing with Type 1 diabetes — he was diagnosed two years ago.
“I probably spend three days a week on the road selling and two days on paperwork and being on the phone,” said Hammond, who fished plenty of smaller, local tournaments at Lake Norman, Badin and High Rock lakes over the past several years, his learning curve shortened by around 100 days on the water with Dylan Fulk of Mount Pleasant, who has fished on the BASS Open circuit, a bigger national circuit.. “There are some weeks where I go without fishing.
“I want to fish the Opens, but I’ve got a lot to learn right now,” Hammond said. “A lot of the lakes we go to are nothing like we’ve got around here. We went to Michigan last year (Saginaw Bay), and I didn’t know how to run big water, but now I know.
“I considered college bass fishing; a lot of my buddies are doing it and love it, but I’d rather work. I’m very fortunate that my dad supports me the way he does. I’d like to fish professionally for 20 or 30 years.”
Hammond has four more NPFL events this year before the season-ending championship next March. His next tournament is July 7-12 at Pickwick, where he cashed his first check in 2023.
Three state-record saltwater fish certified
The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries has certified three state-record saltwater fish that were caught over the past six weeks – two of them the same day.
Christopher Hyche of Chapin, South Carolina, narrowly missed a world record with a 23-pound yellowmouth grouper caught offshore out of Calabash on May 3. It is the first yellowmouth grouper to hold the state record, just 3 ounces short of the all-tackle world record.
Hyche’s fish was 33½ inches long with a 25½-inch girth. It hit a whole sardine.
It’s Hyche’s second state record. He previously held South Carolina’s state record for mangrove snapper.
Joshua Pendleton of Southport broke the state record with a 5-pound, 3.2-ounce white grunt caught May 3 near Frying Pan Tower. The fish, 20.38 inches long with a 15.13-inch girth, hit a Fish Bite. The previous state-record white grunt weighed 4 pounds, 13.6 ounces, caught off Morehead City in 2023.
On June 2, Roberto Cancel III of Lillington caught a 33-pound, 12.16-ounce Almaco Jack off Morehead City, breaking the previous record, from 2023, by almost 7 pounds.
Cancel was fishing aboard the Captain Stacy head boat, fishing with a whole squid. The fish was 39 ¾ inches long with a 28-inch girth.
Fishing, hunting licenses going up in price
North Carolina sportsmen are going to pay for the privilege of visiting the woods and waters of the state, beginning on July 1, with license fees jumping almost across the board.
The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission announced increases last week, tying them to increases in the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) over the past four years. The sale of licenses makes up about one-fourth of the agency’s revenues.
Here’s a short list of increases for some of the more popular licenses:
• Annual inshore fishing: Was $25, will be $30;
• Annual coastal fishing: Was $16, will be $19;
• Annual inshore/coastal fishing combo: Was $41, will be $49;
• Annual statewide hunting: Was 25, will be $30;
• Annual statewide hunting plus big game: Was $39, will be $42;
• Annual inshore fishing/statewide hunting combo: Was $35, will be $45;
• Annual basic sportsman (comprehensive hunting/inshore fishing): Was $53, will be $63;
• Annual comprehensive sportsman (comprehensive hunting/inshore fishing/coastal fishing): Was $69, will be $82.

Dan Kibler has covered the outdoors since 1985 as outdoors editor of the Winston-Salem Journal and later as managing editor of Carolina Sportsman until his retirement in 2021.