Athol’s Nicholas Burnett preparing for Big Bass Zone Junior Championship in Idaho

  • Athol’s Nicholas Burnett shows off one of his bass during a recent fishing expedition. The 17-year-old is competing in the Big Bass Zone Junior National Championship presented by Bassmaster in Priest River, Idaho on Oct. 3. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Athol’s Nicholas Burnett shows off one of his bass during a recent fishing expedition. The 17-year-old is competing in the Big Bass Zone Junior National Championship presented by Bassmaster in Priest River, Idaho on Oct. 3. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 9/24/2020 6:24:02 PM

A long day on the water is just about as good as it gets for Nicholas Burnett.

The 17-year-old from Athol enjoys the grind of an eight-hour day spent fishing. He's certainly put in the time this summer, getting out just about every day in pursuit of the biggest bass on the lakes and rivers of the North Quabbin Region.

Next weekend, Burnett will see what he can do against some of the best young anglers in the country when he casts his line in some new water. The Mahar Regional School junior will travel to Priest River, Idaho, to compete in the 2020 Big Bass Zone Junior Championship presented by Bassmaster, where first prize is a $35,000 Bass Cat Boat.

“It’s quite a thrill,” explained Burnett. “This is the biggest tournament I’ve ever qualified for and it’s a lot different than the local tournaments I’ve been in. It’s definitely a new experience because I’ve never really bass fished outside of New England. I’m going to be nervous, but it’s a great opportunity.”

Burnett qualified for the event thanks to a major haul he recorded on May 11. He had already paid the $25 entry fee for the virtual qualifier that ran from January through August, and when he landed a 6¼-pound bass, he knew he had a good shot to punch his ticket to Idaho. The tournament takes the top angler from each state, and Burnett’s 6¼-pounder held up as the biggest in Massachusetts.

“It’s definitely been the best year fishing in my life,” Burnett explained. “I’ve gotten a lot of big fish. I’ve really put the time in and been dedicated to it. I’ve probably gone five times a week, just about every single day as much as I can.”

Burnett said he found out about the competition on Facebook, and once he had a goal in mind, he was relentless. He caught a 3½-pound bass early on, then gradually increased his haul until landing the eventual winner in New Salem back in May. The competition required precise virtual measuring online, as anglers needed to purchase a specific measuring tape to record their bass. Burnett bested the rest of the field in Massachusetts by a considerable margin, with the second-place finisher posting a 3-pounder.

“I kept getting big ones,” he said. “They had a leaderboard online so I could kind of track where I was compared to other people and I knew I was in the clear pretty much.”

The qualifying round came to an end on Aug. 1, and Burnett officially punched his ticket to the national tournament in Idaho. He and his family will head out west on Wednesday, and the competition is set to run from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m. next Saturday. 

The event features 52 anglers from across the country — one from every state plus a few top second-place finishers — and competitors will be paired up two to a boat, though it’s still a solo competition. While he’ll be fishing unchartered waters, Burnett said he’s going into it with a positive attitude.

“They get the same kind of seasons as us out there so hopefully the fish act sort of the same way,” he offered. “That area looks a little like the Quabbin Reservoir, which I’ve fished a lot. So hopefully I can go out there, catch some fish and have some fun.”

Burnett said that while he grew up mixing in trout and fly fishing, he’s been focused on bass fishing for quite some time now.

“I like the sport of bass fishing because it’s a little different,” he began. “It’s the thrill of it, I think. I kind of go for big fish. I think to me, it’s worth the grind. You go out for a six, seven, eight-hour day going for that one big fish and if you land it, that one big one is worth all that time and dedication.”

For more information or to follow along, visit bbzworld.com. The event will host a live weigh-in via its Facebook page (www.facebook.com/BBZJC).


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