November 2, 2009 by Will Brantley
MURRAY, Ky. - Dustin Vaal and Jesse Schultz crossed the stage on day one of the National Guard FLW College Fishing Central Regional Championship with just over 4 pounds - enough to be in the hunt, but definitely not in the spotlight heading into day two. Like two seasoned pros, however, the teammates, from Indiana University, knew they needed a change of plan to be contenders. They adjusted accordingly and increased their weight each day before winning the event with a total of 29 pounds, 14 ounces.
They'd been chasing schooling fish, likely the most common pattern at this time of year on Kentucky Lake, but as they learned, schoolers can be feast or famine. Indeed, Ohio State, Murray State and Eastern Kentucky University were all burned to a degree by big schools of bass that would bust the surface in tantalizing fashion, but then refuse to bite.
Vaal of St. Meinrad, Ind., and Schultz of New Albany, Ind., made a big change on day two when they ran to a riprap bank that surrounds a neck-down that opens up into a large bay. With the near record rainfall last week and water being constantly released at Kentucky Dam, heavy current was funneling through that neck-down, creating a classic ambush point for hungry fall bass. Schultz and Vaal began fishing that area yesterday and spent the entire day there today.
"It was just a magic spot," Vaal said. "We caught 50 fish in there today, and 47 of them came on one lure. We had our limit by 9 a.m. and just kept catching them, trying to upgrade."
Slow-moving baits like tubes and jigs were the ticket Sunday, but today was a fast-paced chunk-and-wind bite.
"Our 47 fish came on a Team Supreme 50/50 spinnerbait," Vaal continued. "We were throwing a 3/8-ounce citrus-shad color with double willow-leaf blades. One blade was silver; one was gold. When I'd get the boat positioned just right in the current, where we could throw parallel to the bank, it was a fish almost every time."
Schultz and Vaal earned a $25,000 check for Indiana University as well as a new Ranger boat.
EKU slips to second
Richard Cobb V of Richmond, Ky., and Tyler Moberly of Berea, Ky., fishing for Eastern Kentucky University, were in the lead this morning. They've been on schooling fish in the back of Blood River this week, but have been catching them in a subtle fashion by tossing a shaky head toward the shad schools and enticing bites as they pulled it across bottom. That bite didn't hold up Monday. They finished the event in second place with 25-12.
"We really needed wind today, and we didn't have it," Cobb said. "Our fish weren't boiling like they had been; they seemed to be more suspended out off the banks. The one keeper we caught came from flipping a lay-down. But we're just happy to have qualified for the National Championship."
Cobb had one more thing to add, hoping to stoke the competitive fires for the National Championship, which takes place in April 2010 in Knoxville, Tenn, "Be sure and tell those West Coast boys they're going to be lost when they get over here to Tennessee."
Ohio State in third
Ohio State's Casey Hammann and Kevin Moeller, both from Cincinnati, caught the heaviest bag of the tournament at 16 pounds, 14 ounces on day one, but weren't able to return to the same area the rest of the event because it is a waterfowl sanctuary and became off limits to fishing effective Nov. 1. The two anglers, both members of the National Guard, stuck to a pattern of chasing schooling fish, but just weren't able to repeat that day-one success. They ended in third with a three-day catch of 22 pounds, 11 ounces.
"You could see fish busting everywhere out there," Hammann said onstage. "But it was just tough to get them to bite."
SIU's magic crankbait nets fourth place
Travis Gould of Vandalia, Ill., and Richard Dunham of Carbondale, Ill., fishing for Southern Illinois University, have maintained a fair level of consistency during this event, much of it due to a lipless crankbait they snagged on the first day of competition. They later tied that lure on, and it clued them in to a productive pattern. Gould and Dunham caught 6-7 on day one; 10-3 yesterday; and 3-9 today for a total three-day weight of 20 pounds, 3 ounces and fourth place.
Hometown takes fifth
Though Steve Miller and Kalem Tippett, representing Murray State, the host university, seemed a little disappointed as they crossed the stage the final day, you wouldn't know it by the crowd. Miller and Tippett finished day one in second place with a 13-pound, 9-ounce bag, but have since struggled. They caught one keeper yesterday and another today to finish up fifth with a final weight of 17 pounds. Miller and Tippett knew they had a hurdle to jump going out this morning, and having already qualified for the National Championship, they decided to go for broke and fish some grass beds for big fish.
"The water is really rising, and we only saw one little school of fish today," Tippett said. "They seemed to be out of the grass and up on the newly flooded flats for the most part. We've done a lot of running over the last three days. We've covered all the boundaries north and south."