October 8, 2011 by Gary Mortenson
CARBONDALE, Ill. - Heading back to final weigh-in, the Northwestern University team of Jimmy Morrow and Matthew Kestufskie appeared to have a day they'd wish to forget. As it turned out, it was a day they will remember for the rest of their lives.
Despite bringing zero fish to the scales, Northwestern scored an amazing victory at the FLW College Fishing Central Regional Championship simply by outlasting the rest of the final-day field. With every other top-five team only recording one fish on the final and most important day of competition, Northwestern managed to eke out a tense and decidedly hard-fought 4-ounce victory.
"We (incorrectly) heard that one of the teams had caught three fish so we're punching the dashboard all the way back to weigh-in," said Morrow. "We missed a lot of fish today and all of our other patterns failed us. We thought for sure we weren't going to win."
Morrow's partner had equally low expectations.
"I lost two big keepers in 15 minutes and I knew if we had caught those fish we would have wrapped this tournament up," said Kestufskie. "It was tough out there today. We had the two bites we needed but they came off."
So what did they think about netting one of the most improbable victories in the history of FLW College Fishing?
"It's the best win I've ever had," said Morrow. "It's one of the coolest moments of my life."
"It's just awesome," added Kestufskie. "Now we finally have a boat."
For their efforts, the duo walked away with $37,500 in winnings for the bass club - which includes $12,500 in cash as well as a Ranger 177TR with a 90-horsepower Evinrude or Mercury outboard wrapped in school colors - and $12,500 for Northwestern University.
Throughout the week, the team relied heavily on topwater frogs, targeted grass flats and banks near the marina.
"It's just been a great tournament," said Morrow. "And now we get to fish for the national championship. It doesn't get much better than that."
UW Stevens Point settles for runner-up spot
After leading the tournament on the first day of competition, the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point team of Ted Johnson and Jody Derks stumbled a bit on day two, relinquishing the overall lead and settling for second place. Unfortunately for them, that's the position they ultimately found themselves by the time final weigh-in had concluded. Despite recording a single fish weighing in at 2 pounds, 4 ounces, it wasn't quite enough as they came up an agonizing 4 ounces short of the title.
"It was an emotional rollercoaster ride all week," said Johnson. "Right now I'm really kind of upset. I hate losing. It was a tough bite out there today. It was a tough bite all week."
To make matters worse, the team broke off the winning fish and had another fish come loose before they could get it in the net.
"I broke off a big one today and I wish I could go back four hours and tell myself to put on 10-pound test line instead of 8-pound line," joked Johnson. "I think it's going to take me a long time to get over this."
The team, which didn't arrive at Kinkaid Lake until 5:30 a.m. the day of the tournament, fought hard all week. As one of only two teams to produced at least one catch about 6 pounds, the Stevens Point team remained in the running for a title throughout the tournament. And one cast either way could have presented an entirely different outcome.
"That's just fishing," said Johnson, whose team ultimately recorded a three-day catch of 12 pounds, 10 ounces. "There were a lot of positives to come out this week. We are going to the national championship."
In fact, all five team finalists were awarded automatic berths into the 2012 FLW College Fishing National Championship. So no matter what happened today, all 10 anglers know they will get to walk on the biggest stage for collegiate anglers just a few short months from now.
"Although we really wanted to win today, I'm excited we're going to get to go to the championship," said Derks. "Because that was our main goal coming into this tournament."
In addition to getting an invite to the national championship, the UW Stevens Point team also received $10,000 in prize money.
SIU nails down third place
By the end of weigh-in, the final standings ended up just as they had looked the day before. And that meant that Justin Skinner and Brad Lemasters of Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville, finished the Central Regional Championship in third place.
"This whole tournament has been exhausting," said Skinner, whose team posted a final tally of 10 pounds, 3 ounces. "It's really been a grind. This high pressure system really messed with the fish this week. We got a couple of bites this morning but then the fish just shut off. But overall, we're excited about qualifying for the championship. This is only our first year fishing. We met a lot of great friends this week. We had a lot of fun. Overall, it was just great to have been a part of this."
The SIU team said that they mostly concentrated their efforts today in the back of creek channels, flipping a homemade jig to land the majority of their catch.
For their effort this week, the team also walked away with $5,000 in winnings.
Kansas State University finishes fourth
Because his brother and fishing partner had a prior commitment, Ryan Patterson had to carry the banner of Kansas State University by himself the entire week. However, in the end, Patterson acquitted himself admirable, using a three-day catch of 9 pounds, 3 ounces to grab fourth place overall and earn a berth in the 2012 national championship.
Not bad for flying solo.
"My goal this week was just to catch fish because my practice was terrible. So I'm pretty happy right now," said Patterson. "There were a couple of times this week that I really missed fishing with my brother. So I'm definitely looking forward to having him back in my boat for the championship."
While Patterson pulled off something nobody had ever done before, qualifying for the national championship while fishing alone for an entire event, he also managed to provide some highlight reel catches as well.
"I caught my one fish today with time running out at around 2:30 p.m.," he said. "I was fishing upriver, about 36 minutes from the marina, when I hooked the fish. But it came unbuttoned at the boat as it was coming over the gunnel. It flew all the way over to the other gunnel and I just jumped on it. There were a couple of pleasure boats out there at the time and they had no idea what was going on. I can't even imagine what they were thinking."
"Right now, I'm just ready for the national championship."
Patterson said that he targeted large boulders with a 5/16-ounce jig to land his catch.
For his efforts, Patterson also walked away with $5,000 in winnings.
Indiana University finishes fifth
Using a three-day catch of 8 pounds, 7 ounces, the Indiana University team of Dustin Vaal and Steven Bressler took home fifth place overall and a check for $5,000. However, in many respects, the Indiana team was thankful they even got that far in the tournament, given the tough luck they experienced all week.
"We broke of a lot of good fish this week and had a 2-pound penalty on the first day (for coming back late)," said Bressler. "We caught two fish late today but they were only 15 1/2 inches (a 1/2 short of the legal size). A lot of bad things happened to us, but we qualified for the national championship, so that's great."
The team said that it targeted a grass flat in 3 to 20 feet of water, using a Junebug-colored Senko, topwater frogs and spinnerbaits to land the majority of their catch this week.
"We're catching fish everywhere but we just couldn't get the right ones today," Vaal said. "But overall, this is one of the best experiences I've ever had."
"I would definitely take a national championship title over a regional title any day," added Bressler. "I can't wait to go."
In the end, Indiana University took home $5,000 in prize money.
FLW College Fishing action continues Oct. 13-15 at the Texas Regional on Somerville Lake in College Station, Texas.