Ask Smithson Valley High School sophomores Cade Dornburg and Braxton Alexander — or their parents — how they captured first place at the Texas High School Bass Association’s (THSBA) tournament at Canyon Lake on Jan. 22 and you’ll hear about the dedication, hard work, study, commitment, patience and hours of practice it takes to become elite high-school fishermen.
What you won’t learn is how they actually did it or exactly where on Canyon Lake they caught that big 7.08-pound black largemouth bass that guaranteed their victory on that cold, blustery morning.
“Fishermen don’t like to give up their secrets,” said Cade’s mom Heather Dornburg.
The anglers face another challenge Saturday, at the next THSBA tournament at Lake Buchanan, but Comal ISD Bass Fishing Coach Jason Pape said Braxton and Cade could well become THSBA’s Hill Country Division anglers-of-the-year for the second year in a row.
The Hill Country Division stretches from Boerne to Columbus.
“That’s quite the accomplishment,” Pape said. “They’re on their way to securing that again this year.”
On Jan. 22, Braxton and Cade earned $2,000 in college scholarship funds as a team and split $500 worth of Lew’s and Strike gift cards. Cade also is now the proud owner of a pair of Costa sunglasses.
More Intense than Championship Golf
The Dornburg and Alexander families live right on Canyon Lake in the Cordova subdivision across from Mystic Shores.
Fathers Blake Dornburg and Rick Alexander are avid fishermen, but Braxton Alexander just fished for fun. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, he was hanging out in his neighborhood by himself when Cade, who fishing for Guardian’s Bass Club, moved into the neighborhood.
The high school students, who also play football for Smithson Valley, became fast friends and have competed together on Comal ISD’s bass team ever since.
“Once I saw how much fun it was, and the scholarship money and the people you can meet I just said why not,” Braxton said. “Football is very fun and competitive but fishing is something you can do for your whole life. I realized that and hopped on the train and look where we are at now.”
Bass fishing doesn’t require the athletic prowess it takes to chase a football across a field, but there’s much, much more to it than casting a line while sitting in a boat or guessing where fish are hanging out.
Pape, who worked in the outdoor industry for 30 years and now teaches economics and psychology, also coaches Smithson Valley’s boys’ and girls’ golf teams.
He said he didn’t know what he was getting into three years ago when bass fishing was introduced in the school district.
“I didn’t realize what a niche this is, and how it has a high degree of involvement,” Pape said. “It takes boats, electronics, equipment, and a dedication to being good at this. It’s a heavily invested sport…more intense than golf at a championship level…You’ve to believe in what you’re doing. Anybody can go to Academy and start fishing. But the ones who have a passion learn multiple techniques. Cade’s committed to his technique. He’s a master of his craft.”
Living on the Lake Helps
Living near Canyon Lake helps the 37 students on his team. Easy access to Hill Country lakes and parents or volunteers with boats are crucial to the sport.
“It takes a lot of your time to be a boat captain for the kids,” said ‘Captain’ Blake Dornburg, who must be on the water with the boys during tournaments. He spent hours completing online training on safe boating and underwent an extensive background check.
“It’s involved,” Pape said. “Between doing the background checks, it’s a safe-sport program to make sure you can safely operate a vessel. I have a lot of kids wanting to be involved but the ability for everyone to be involved, unfortunately, is not feasible due to the kind of equipment and manpower in order to do this.”
Catching the Big Fish
But access to even the biggest bass boat or best fishing equipment doesn’t guarantee fish will bite when Comal’s bass-fishing teams take to the lake.
“We started early in the morning,” said Cade, who grew up fishing on Canyon Lake and also fishes with the Thursday Nighters, along with his dad.
“With the first cast, my buddy, Braxton, caught our fish quickly,” he said. “We figured out a pattern. I caught a fish two to three minutes later We kept working. Five minutes later, with ice on our rods and reels, I caught the big fish that weighed 7.08 pounds. I yelled, ‘big, big, big,’ fought him around the trolling motor and pull him into the net. We were all screaming and hollering. We were flying all over the place trying to find more fish. We kicked back around 11 a.m. Braxton caught another fish. We were struggling. On Canyon Lake there is no guarantee you will catch the fish you want. We kept moving and went into one of our spots and the fish started biting again, and we ended up catching our last few keepers.”
Janalyn Alexander, Braxton’s mom, said she’s amazed by the boys’ eagerness to learn.
“I’m in awe of their commitment to the program, and they were excited even though it was below freezing on a Saturday morning,” she said. “That didn’t stop them. They just bundled up and they were ready to go.”
Braxton said the excitement of pulling a 7.08-pound bass out of the water early in the morning kept them plenty warm enough to catch more fish.
“I was stunned,” he said. “When Cade caught the fish and put it in the live well and we just kept our heads on straight and our noses to the grindstone. In all honesty, you don’t really catch fish that big at Canyon. It really started the tournament off with a bang. We knew we couldn’t win the tournament with one fish. Canyon weights were over 10 pounds to win. So we just didn’t worry about anyone else. We worried about ourselves and our baits and just pulled through.”
Small Details Lead to Success
Braxton credits God “100 percent” and Cade’s dad Blake, “the captain,” for his success even while recounting the dozens of Youtube videos he’s watched, the baits he’s researched, and the incredible amount of information he looks up about geographical features of lakes in the Hill Country Division.
“All the small details that lead to success,” he said.
Cade said fishing on Comal’s bass team is all about practice and knowledge of the sport.
“You put together a plan,” he said. “They give you a schedule of lakes. You just go out as much as you can and practice, try to figure out the fish. It changes with the weather and water temperature and everything that will affect them.”
Braxton said Cade’s father Blake helps them pull it all together.
“Our captain has helped us immensely,” Braxton said. “He helps get all of our baits when we are in school, we research the lake in advance — which doubles the time we have to fish — and he teaches us everything that we need to know. New stuff, old techniques, he texts fun cool baits that he sees and talks about them. My knowledge has gone up so much because of him. Reels, what type of rods, specific brands and baits for specific techniques.”
Captain Blake said all credit goes to the boys.
“The boys don’t take any tournament for granted, they know they have to perform every single time,” he said. “There’s a lot for them to live up to after being the Hill Country Division’s Anglers-of-the-Year in 2021.”
Cade and Braxton plan to take their partnership on the road and fish at the college level using some of the scholarship money they are accruing at tournaments.
“We’re basically like brothers, and we talk about fishing and discovering new things, buying new tackle that we get to use together, and celebrating together is just so much fun,” Braxton said. “Our families are so close together. It’s just an extended family of ours and we love them so much.”