October 9, 2010 by Gary Mortenson
SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Shortly after the Sacramento State football team pounded Northern Colorado 35-7, the Sacramento State fishing team of Robert Matsuura and Peter Lee made sure that they wouldn't be overshadowed at their own university for long. Using a total catch of 29 pounds, 2 ounces, Sacramento State took home the top prize at the FLW College Fishing Western Regional Championship in the most dramatic fashion - winning the title by a mere 2 ounces.
However, that was only part of the story. In what will surely go down in record books as one of the most crazy, unlikely and dramatic wins in the history of FLW College Fishing, Sacramento State did everything in their power to guarantee that their victory will not be forgotten anytime soon.
Heading into the final day of competition, Sacramento State was clinging to a 1 1/2-pound lead. However, things took a dramatic turn for the worse for the California squad only a few minutes after takeoff.
"I was casting out a jerkbait, and I hooked Robert in the back in the head," Lee said of the unfortunate incident, which almost derailed the team's chances for a tournament title. "And it wasn't a little cast either. I really wound up and tried to whip it out there. I guess I have to apologize to Robert and his family."
Although it appeared that the injury was serious at first, Matsuura - after a brief hiatus from fishing - quickly found humor in the situation.
"It was kind of my fault," joked Matsuura. "I should have known that (Lee) couldn't throw a jerkbait."
Lee said that he had a brief premonition right before the incident as well.
"(Lee) made one cast, and I felt the breeze whip right past my head," Matsuura said. "And on the very next cast he hooked me. I dropped to the deck. Right then and there I thought we were done. I thought we'd finish the day in fifth place."
But with a treble hook firmly lodged in the back of his head, Matsuura willed away the pain, put his game face on and went back out fishing.
"It was about 7:25 a.m., I have a hook in my head, we're losing fishing time, and we're having a tough time catching fish," said Matsuura. "So it was really a test of confidence for me. It was a big test. But what I learned on Folsom Lake today will only make me a better fisherman."
Despite the setback, the duo forged on. Using a swimbait in the early-morning hours and a Carolina rig and drop-shot armed with a 3-inch Roboworm, the team slowly cobbled together five keeper fish - one short of the limit - and eventually headed back to weigh-in.
Matsuura's partner said he was more than impressed by Matsuura's fortitude.
"Robert was really focused throughout the whole day," said Lee. "He was amazing. But coming back to weigh-in, we really didn't think we'd finish in first place. We thought we'd wind up in second or third place at best."
With the Chico State team of Parker Moran and Mashal Smith sitting with quiet confidence onstage with a total catch of 29 pounds, the Sacramento State team finally brought their fish to the scales. Lee weighed in first and then Matsuura - with treble hook still firmly embedded in the back of his scalp. Sacramento State needed a grand total of 7 pounds, 8 ounces or the title would go to Chico State. Finally, the weight was revealed - 7 pounds, 10 ounces.
Sacramento State had won it all.
"It's a big accomplishment to get the win," said Matsuura. "It's the biggest fishing accomplishment of my life. It feels good. But I'm pretty battered and bruised right now. My hands are all cut up, I'm tired, and I have a hook in my head. It was a pretty stressful day to say the least."
However, with a first-place check in their hands totaling $50,000 (including a brand-new Ranger boat and scholarship money) and a free entry into the 2011 FLW College Fishing National Championship, it was clear that all of the hard work and pain was finally worth it.
"We're really excited about the sweep," said Lee, referring to his team's ability to lead the tournament from start to finish. "The football team won, we finished in first place, and even Robert seems pretty happy now. I still can't believe it. We won by 2 ounces. Who would have guessed that?"
The correct answer - nobody. Nobody at all.
Chico State finishes in runner-up position
Heading into the finals, the Chico State team of Parker Moran and Marshal Smith thought that the tournament title could come down to a battle between them and the other Chico State squad led by Thomas White and Allison Shaw. So when White and Shaw fell 3 ounces short of Moran and Smith's three-day, 29-pound catch, the duo thought the title just might be theirs for the taking. Unfortunately for them, Sacramento State managed to do what they did all week - finish the day in first place for a third consecutive day.
"Gosh, what was that? Did we just lose by 2 ounces," said Moran. "Wow. My hat is off to Sacramento State. That dude took a jerkbait to his dome and still went back out there. That's incredible. They totally deserved to win."
While they would have loved to have walked away with the title, Moran said he had no regrets.
"I'm just so happy right now," he said. "Our bite really died today and I thought we'd finish in second place at best but probably in third. But we couldn't have finished where we did without each other. We used my partner's jig pattern all week and we used my (GPS) spots. Together we were a great team."
"We came in here with a ton of spots and we did exactly what we wanted to do," said Smith. "We stuck to our gameplan all three days."
Moran and Smith said they concentrated on approximately five main areas and rotated between them all day long employing a combination of jigs and drop-shots equipped with a Morning Dawn Robo worm.
"Twenty minutes before we had to head back in, we found another good spot - a chunk rock bank - and we put four fish in the boat in like 10 minutes," said Smith. "I knew we wouldn't be competitive if we didn't catch our limit and that gave me my limit fish. I thought we had a pretty good chance after that."
Although it didn't work out in the end, Moran and Smith walked away with $25,000 in scholarships and a trip to the 2011 National Championship.
The "other" Chico State makes their mark
If a prize was awarded for the biggest characters of the entire tournament, the Chico State team of Thomas White and Allison Shaw would have won hands down. White, who stands seemingly 3 feet taller than his partner, and Shaw, the only woman to qualify for the finals, provided comic relief from start to finish.
And they also proved to be one heck of a fishing team as well. With a total catch of 28 pounds, 13 ounces, White and Shaw managed to take home third place overall as well as $11,000 in scholarships.
"I'm so stoked just to be standing up here," said Shaw, who repeatedly joked with the crowd that she caught all of her fish on a bright pink, 2 1/2-foot children's Zebco fishing rod. "We had a lot of fun out here. I'm just really happy. And look, the fishing rod even matches my shoes!"
White, who played the straight man all week to his partner's effervescent character, attempted to sum up his team's experience at Folsom Lake.
"You know what, we're really versatile this week," said White. "I was really confident we could have won the title. But the problem was that the fish bit the wrong hooks today. Allison caught five fish (per tournament rules each partner can only weight in three fish). And if I would have caught just one of those fish, we'd still be standing onstage. But we had a lot of fun.'
The duo said they caught most of their fish using a drop-shot equipped with a 4-inch Prizm shad Robo worm in 25 to 40 feet of water.
San Jose State University nets fourth place
Although they couldn't quite duplicate the performance of the San Jose State team in 2009 - that team took home the western regional championship title - the duo of Anthony Lee and Tyler Swasey still managed to do the university proud. Using a total catch of 25 pounds, Lee and Swasey grabbed fourth place overall, qualified for the National Championship and walked away with $8,000 in scholarships in the process.
"We had a lot of fun this week," said Swasey. "We just hung out and caught a bunch of fish."
The San Jose State team said that they relied heavily on a weighted Robo worm to land the majority of their catch.
"Our goal was to get three big bites a day," said Swasey. "But our bite really turned off today. So we had to change things up. In the end we just ran around looking for fish in general trying to catch a limit."
Lee also provided a bit of comic relief all week for the crowd as well. With Lee's parents in the audience, tournament host Jason Harper revealed to them that Lee had just recently spent a good portion of college stipend on a new bass boat. The only problem was that his parents had not heard of that purchase. In addition, Lee was repeatedly goaded onstage into proposing to his girlfriend.
"So, are you going to propose?" joked weigh-in master Justin Lucas.
"Uh...," said Lee. "I think it might happen in the future."
Cal Poly settles for fifth
Rounding out the top-five team finalists was Cal Poly, led by Damian Bean and Scott Hellesen. Together, the duo landed a three-day catch of 23 pounds, 3 ounces to net $6,000 in scholarship money.
"We're barely squeaked into the finals with only three fish so we're pretty happy," said Hellesen."
Cal Poly fished a drop-shot equipped with a Morning Dawn Robo worm in 20 feet of water for their early morning pattern. Later, in the early afternoon, the team switched to fishing a Jackall Crosstail shad, targeting fish in about 30 to 40 feet of water.
In the end, the team said they had no complaints with their fifth-place finish.
"The money is nice," said Bean. "But it's just a real honor to be going to the National Championship."
The FLW College Fishing schedule resumes with the Southeast Regional Championship, slated for Lake Monroe in Orlando, Fla., Oct. 21-23.