November 17, 2009 by David A. Brown
NATCHITOCHES, La. - The only good thing about starting the day in last place is that there's only one way to go. Of course, how far you go depends on how bad you want it. Obviously, Andrew Shafer and Paul Manley of Texas A&M wanted the National Guard FLW College Fishing Texas Regional Championship title in a big way. After placing fourth on day one with 6 pounds, 10 ounces, Shafer and Manley caught 6-11 on day two and dropped to fifth. That must have really irritated them, because Monday they sacked up the tournament's heaviest catch - a 17-pound, 2-ounce limit that was nearly 4 pounds heavier than their first two days' total of 13-5. Referring to his morning prediction of a strong final-round performance, Shafer said, "We told ya'll we were going to come in here and open up a can on `em." That optimism came as a complete dismissal of the "last place" stigma. "We told everyone that we were going to do something different and we were going to go out there and compete. We had nothing to lose, so we went out there and did our best and the big ones bit." Shafer said that weather contributed to his team's success. With a cold front bearing down on northwestern Louisiana, day three began with early-morning showers that tapered to a drizzle by the 7 a.m. launch. Persistent cloud cover kept fish roaming, and the impending temperature drop had them chewing. Shafer caught all of his day-three fish on a gray-colored ChatterBait with a Lake Fork swimbait for a trailer. "Everybody was throwing spinnerbaits, but the fish liked that little change in action (with the ChatterBait). It still had the vibration and the movement, but a little change helped," Shafer said. "The bass are feeding on shad right now, so I put that swimbait on, and it looks amazing in the water." Manley got two of his fish on a gray spinnerbait with chartreuse skirt tips and caught his last keeper on a Texas-rigged Speed Craw (green-pumpkin with chartreuse pincers). Topping the field, he said, was a pleasant surprise to cap a great day on the water. "It feels good, but we weren't expecting it - we thought we had about 13 pounds," Manley said. "This morning, we went out hoping to jump maybe a spot or two, but once we got our three biggest fish, we realized we had a shot at (winning). We started getting a little more serious at that point." In both of the previous two days, the winners caught their fish mostly around cypress trees and docks. Their bites came later in the day, and they caught all their keepers after 1 p.m. Today, they started out by probing grass lines, but soon transitioned to stands of dead lily pads and found their fish roaming the perimeters. "They were out on the edges in some holes in the pads," Shafer said. "They were really aggressive. When we hooked one, we'd say, `Oh man!' When Paul hooked his big one, he said, `I can't turn it - it's a monster!' "Every fish we hooked, we got it in the boat. We just did what we had to do, and it worked out." For their efforts, Manley and Shafer won $25,000 for their school and a Ranger 177TR with an engine for their bass club. The boat will be wrapped in the school colors. Texas State improves to second Retaining the second-place position in which they began day three, Jay McCollum and David Cosner of Texas State University added 10 pounds, 13 ounces to the 6-9 and 10-3 they caught the first two days. They ended their run with a 27-9 total that earned $12,500 for their school and another $12,500 for their club. Cosner said that he and McCollum tried to fish wind-swept points, but quickly deduced that the day's excessive wind - often gusting to 30 mph - was pushing loads of bait into backwater coves. The important adjustment, he said, was to relax and focus on covering the water thoroughly. "I started second-guessing myself this morning, and I really had to tell myself to slow down," Cosner said. "I started off fishing a jig, but then I started throwing a spinnerbait, and it paid off. We caught all of our keeper fish on spinnerbaits." The Texas State anglers used 1/2-ounce white Booyah spinnerbaits. Given the day's dim conditions, they switched from metallic blades to painted blades. They caught their fish on spinnerbaits with chartreuse willow blades and white Colorado blades. "The water was murky, and it was on the rise from all the heavy rain," Cosner said. "Also, the sun wasn't out, so metallic blades wouldn't flash." McCollum said that diligence was his biggest ally today: "I had a plan, and that plan was to throw a spinnerbait all day. If I hadn't have caught my last fish when I did, I probably would have put that rod down because my wrist was killing me." Froggy Tarleton State stays in third Tanner Morgan and John Anderson of Tarleton State may have settled for third place, but they'll be remembered as the most-improved team of the tournament. Day one found them in 15th place with 4-6, but sacking up 10-6 - the heaviest day-two weight - pushed them into the final round at third place. Today's weight of 10-5 kept them in the same spot with a 25-1 total that earned $5,500 for their school and the same for their club. Anderson and Morgan caught all of their fish on Horny Toads in watermelon-red and green-pumpkin. Heeding the advice of another team that did not reach the finale, they determined that frogging would be a good fit for the prevailing conditions. "Cloud cover and rain normally brings the fish shallow, so we thought the (frog baits) would be a good plan for working the pondweed," Anderson said. Morgan, who caught three big keepers in a deep hole on day two, said today's windy conditions forced them out of several promising spots: "I think the wind really limited us a little bit. We had some good stands of pondweed that we caught some fish out of early, and then when the wind picked up, we couldn't get another bite in there. "We had to go find some spots that were out of the wind. Our deep hole that we fished yesterday was getting pounded by the wind. We fished it a little bit, but the wind was just too much for (that spot)." Wind-blown Northwestern settles for fourth The hometown favorites, Jeffrey Rich and Aaron Sistrunk of Northwestern State, represented their school well by reaching the top five and improving each day. They placed eighth on day one with 6 pounds, 3 ounces, improved to fourth on day two with 7-6 and ended in fourth by catching 8-2 for a tournament total of 21-11. Throwing frogs and spinnerbaits, the local anglers were anticipating the opportunity of fishing a promising spot where a seawall with adjacent depths of 6 feet rolled off into about 14. The spot produced big weights quickly in practice, so Rich and Sistrunk figured they had an ace in the hole. "We really wanted to fish our deep fish today because we knew that they'd bite, but the wind just didn't go the right way - it blew straight in on our spot at about 30 mph," Rich said. "The waves were so big they were going over into the (homeowner's) yard. I tried to stay on the spot with the trolling motor on (high), but it was too rough for us." Certainly, the local favorites would have preferred a win, but of the two $4,000 checks that he and Sistrunk won for their school and their bass club, Rich joked, "Me and Aaron are now the all-time leading money winners for Northwestern State University." Baylor bottoms out with fifth Baylor University's Jay Holland and Andrew McAdams led days one and two with catches of 10-15 and 6-5. They stumbled on the final day with just three fish for 3-6 and ended in fifth with a total weight of 20-10. Holland and McAdams won $3,000 for their school and the same for their bass club. The Baylor anglers fished 1/2-ounce War Eagle spinnerbaits with gold and silver willow blades. The colors were Mouse (gray skirt) and Hot Mouse (gray skirt with chartreuse tips).