November 23, 2009 by David A. Brown
SANFORD, Fla. - They've had decent bites - enough to earn the top spot - but the University of Florida's Matthew Wercinski and Jake Gipson will be looking for the knock-out punch on the final day of the National Guard FLW College Fishing Southeast Regional Championship on Lake Monroe.
The Gator guys set the mark on day one with their 12-pound, 12-ounce catch - thus far, the tournament's heaviest. Going into the second day, Wercinski said he and his partner were going to try and manage their fish by bagging just enough to secure their final round spot, while keeping enough fish in the water to carry them through to the finish line. They accomplished that objective with a 9-9 limit that yielded a 22-5 total, and now it's time to look for the big stuff.
"We know there are 8- to 10-pound fish out there because we saw them in practice," Gipson said. "We have a front coming through tonight, so a lot of big fish should be active today ahead of that weather."
The leaders have been fishing a secretive soft plastic rig around scattered grass and matted grass. After scratching out modest limits on day two, Wercinski said they're hoping to lock up the win with a nice rod-bender today.
"We have a big-fish spot where we haven't gotten a big one yet," he said. "This is a one-bite spot, but if we can get one, it will be a big fish."
Auburn's Dennis Parker and Shaye Baker moved up from third to second on day two and enter the final round trailing the leaders by 2-14. They've caught most of their fish from a spring-fed canal where shallow, clear water has necessitated stealthy presentations with 10-pound fluorocarbon line and small plastics. After day two, Baker said he was concerned about the potential for squeezing one more day out of the spot.
"We rung it dry and this is not a place that replenishes," he said. "But we're going to give it a try today and fish 100-200 yards and maybe we'll get lucky and pull a good fish out of there. If not, we'll roll the dice and try to find the right shell bed."
Wherever they end up fishing, Baker said that securing quantity will take priority of quality. "It's going to come down to getting a few fish in the morning right quick and then hopefully, getting a big fish or two."
If fish remain in their primary spot, the dim light of today's cloudy conditions will counteract the challenges of fishing clear water.
Also looking for a big bite is the third-place team from Young Harris - Clint McNeal and Brad Rutherford. They'll also target shell beds with Carolina rigs, but they'll keep reaction baits handy for the schooling fish that they've seen all week.
"Some of our spots have big fish on them," Rutherford said. "We've seen 5- and 6-pounders come completely out of the water chasing bait."
McNeal stressed the importance of numbers: "We both need to catch a limit today. We've gotten lucky both days by catching (enough weight) without getting both of our limits. Today, we'll need six fish."
The tournament's host school, University of Central Florida, proudly finds its local team in the number four spot. Matthew Norman and Dustin Lauer made the top-5 cut in dramatic fashion by hauling in the largest bag of day two - a full limit catch of 10 pounds, 10 ounces that included Norman's 4-pound kicker.
Lauer said they'll need another strong day to close the distance on first place. "We're both going to have to land every fish we hook. It's going to take a kicker fish for us to win."
Auburn has dual representation in the final round with Tigers Richard Peek and Caleb Rodgers starting in fifth place. Peek said his team will swing for the fences in hopes of advancing their position. They'll throw mostly swimbaits today.
The top five FLW College Fishing teams from each of the four regular-season Southeastern Division tournaments gained automatic entry into the 2009 Southeastern Regional Championship at the University of Central Florida. During the three-day regional event, 20 two-man collegiate angling teams will compete for a top award of $50,000, which includes a 177TR Ranger wrapped in school colors and powered by an Evinrude or Yamaha outboard engine.
Final weigh-ins start at 4 p.m. at the University of Central Florida's IOA Plaza.
University of Central Florida will also host the Reel Life Festival in conjunction with the Southeast Regional Championship. The free festival, located at the University of Central Florida's IOA Plaza, will feature a Battle of the Bands, the National Guard Warrior Challenge ropes course, rock-climbing wall, paintball range, geocaching plus a variety of other activities. The Reel Life Festival will run in conjunction with the tournament weigh-in from 4 to 7 p.m. Reel Life Festival visitors can register to win a MacBook Air.
The top five teams from each of the five National Guard regional championships (Western, Central, Northern, Texas and Southeast) will advance to the National Guard National Championship April 10-12, 2010, in Knoxville, Tenn. The winning team at the national championship will qualify for the prestigious 2010 Forrest Wood Cup.
Sunrise: 6:58 a.m.
Temperature at takeoff: 67 degrees
Expected high temperature: 84 degrees
Water temperature: 60-61 degrees
Wind: from the West at 5-10 mph
Max. Humidity: 78 percent
Day's outlook: Cloudy, thunderstorms possible