September 10, 2011 by David A. Brown
AUBURN, Ala. - Several words could fairly describe Randy Tolbert and Chase Simmemon's victory at the National Guard FLW College Fishing Southeast Regional Championship presented by Evinrude. Amazing, exciting, rewarding; all of those would do, but how `bout this one - cool.
What they sought was cool and so was their temperament. Separately, both elements would have certainly contributed to a productive day, but taken in concert, this double dose of chill capped a dominant wire-to-wire win for the University of Georgia duo. Before we get to the cool stuff, let's look at some hot stats that clearly describe a team destined for victory:
- Tolbert and Simmemon were the only team to catch a limit all three days of the tournament.
- They were the only team to catch a limit on day three.
- They were the only team to reach the 10-pound mark (10-0 on day one).
- With a three-day total of 24-4, they won by a margin of 7 pounds, 8 ounces.
Now, on to how they earned their victory and the first-place prize of a Ranger boat and engine, along with $25,000 split evenly between their college and their bass club. The Bulldogs caught one of their keepers in deep water on a drop-shot - a safe tactic that produced for them earlier in the tournament. The other four keepers - one on a finesse jig and three on a Texas-rigged beaver - were a product of that cool stuff the winners sought.
Tolbert explained: "We were fishing the back of a creek where there was a little current. The (Army Corps of Engineers) wasn't generating and that made a difference because our creek had a little current and the water was cooler than the rest of the lake. I think what moved the fish back there to begin with was the cooler water."
Now, Lake Harding received a good dose of cooler weather right before the tournament, as a mild cold front passed through the region with the usual clouds and showers followed by bright, bluebird skies. Although three days of sunny weather stabilized temperatures, the post-frontal conditions shuffled the deck on a lot of the main lake spots and most of the field ended up struggling. Day two saw weights decline across the board and today held three teams to just one fish.
However, Tolbert said his team's creek pattern proved critical as the protected backwaters maintained comfortable conditions for bass.
"At the end of the summer, the fish lose oxygen when the (main lake) water gets hot," he said. "Well, back in the creek, the water was about eight degrees cooler than the main lake and that's what drew us there to begin with. We found some there in practice and after the rain they didn't move like (other competitors') fish in the main lake."
The winners did most of their day-three damage by flipping shallow cover, mostly wood. After catching a 2-pounder that way, they went without a bite for nearly two hours. They decided to take a break and venture out to deeper water, but eventually returned to the creek environment where their victory really came together.
"After we caught that dropshot fish, we lost two others on the dropshot that would have helped us, but it didn't matter," Tolbert said. "We just went flipping and found one little stretch that was like 50 yards long and they were stacked in there."
As for the cool temperament part, Simmemon said: "We just stuck to our game plan. We didn't ever lose our composure and just run up and down the lake. One key thing was that we weren't afraid to take chances. We came here to win and that's what we did."
With Clemson's Andy Wicker and Harold Turner (second place) starting day three just 4 ounces off the lead, Simmemon said he and his partner knew they couldn't let up until their day was officially done.
"We thought we might have it won after (Tolbert) caught that last fish and we had five in the boat. We knew it was going to be close. Clemson was right on our heels so we fished until the last second."
Cool, very cool.
Clemson settles at second
Wicker and Turner stuck with the patterns that delivered most of their fish - lipless crankbaits and flipping creature baits in shallow water - but managed just one fish in the final round. With that one going 1-4 and boosting their tournament total to 16-12, the Tigers ended their campaign in the second-place spot they held since day one.
"The places we were fishing, we didn't have any company in there, we just ran out of fish," Wicker said. "Our crankbait bite died off. We found those fish (on that pattern) after the cold snap and then it started to warm back up. I think that hurt the crankbait bite and as far as the flipping fish, I think I just ran out of those. Today, we spent all day searching new water and that's hard to do on the final day."
Of his team's top-5 finish, Turner said: "I think teamwork was one of the biggest (factors) for us. He found his fish, I found some for myself and we both trusted each other to catch them. In tough conditions, that means a lot when you have faith in your partner."
Kennesaw takes a close third
Kennesaw State University's Thomas Frink and Justin Marlow caught two fish for an even 2 pounds on day three and finished in third place with 16-6 - just 6 ounces behind Clemson. The anglers caught their final-round fish on a Reaction Innovations Vixen and a dropshot with a 4 1/2-inch Roboworm (Kerrlicious).
"We started out this morning doing the same thing we've been doing, we just wanted to stick with it longer, hoping to get a limit and try to move up," Frink said. "There was a ton of fish around us and they were boiling everywhere. We caught a lot of shorts and the two keepers we caught came from there. It was just a struggle.
"About 11 o'clock, we decided to run upriver and maybe get a decent bite up there on a frog. But the short day was rough. You have to cover some water with that frog. To get some bites, it's really time-consuming. Essentially, we had maybe an hour and 15 minutes of fishing time (upriver) and that's not really enough."
Of the day's abundance of undersized bass, Frink joked: "They wouldn't let us glue two fish together to make one keeper. I thought zip ties and duct tape fixed everything, but I guess not."
Georgia Southern finishes fourth
After catching limits the first two days, Georgia Southern's Wesley Maples and Jed Thigpen added one small keeper on day three and finished in fourth place with 13-2. The anglers spent most of their day flipping shallow grass.
With his team making its third appearance at the Southeast Regional, Maples said they were pleased that they accomplished a significant objective by reaching the top-5 and thereby qualifying for the College Fishing National Championship.
"When we started fishing this season in February, we decided that our one goal for the year was to make the national championship," he said.
Auburn takes fifth
Auburn University's Jordan Lee and Matt Lee started the day in fifth place after moving up from seventh on day two. They bagged a lone 1-pound keeper on day three and finished in fifth with a total weight of 12-10.
The Lee brothers had a fairly productive day, but unfortunately, the most cooperative fish were ineligible for the tournament.
"We went upriver and caught about 8 pounds of shoal bass, but they're (a protected) species and we had to release them because it's a state law," Matt said.
A dropshot with a roboworm produced their one keeper largemouth, along with a 2-pound catfish that had Jordan thinking they had finally stuck something worth keeping. Painfully, it was the catfish that did the sticking.
"That catfish was wiggling on the deck and when I went to kick it off, his (pectoral fin) spine poked through my shoe and stuck me in the foot," he said.