April 15, 2012 by Gary Mortenson
COLUMBIA, S.C. - After a grueling year of qualifying and two hard-fought days of championship action, the top five team contenders made their way onto the open waters of Lake Murray one final time in an effort to snare the coveted title of 2012 National Guard FLW College Fishing National Champion.
Auburn University, which has been knocking on the door of a national title for the past couple of years, finishing third place overall in 2010 and 2011, is currently atop the leaderboard with 32 pounds, 4 ounces. So, could this finally be the year the school kicks the door open and walks away with the title that has eluded the university to date?
"Man, it would mean everything to win," said Auburn team member Matt Lee. "We're fired up and ready to start fishing right now. I'm ready. I'm not here to play around. To win the title and get to fish in the Forrest Wood Cup, that would be amazing. I think if we come back with 16 pounds today, we're going to be tough to beat."
However, lurking in second place is the one-man Kansas State team of Ryan Patterson. One of the best stories of the entire tournament, Patterson accomplished what no angler has ever done in the history of FLW College Fishing - qualifying for the finals of the national championship fishing solo. Because his partner and brother ran into eligibility issues, Patterson was forced, per tournament rules, to enter the tournament by himself. And he hasn't disappointed. Boating a whopping 17-pound, 8-ounce stringer on day two, Patterson leapfrogged from 13th to second place overall. And now, he has a chance to make history again.
"I feel like I'm around the type of quality fish you need to have a shot to win this," said Patterson, who currently trails the leaders by 31/2 pounds. "The neat thing about Lake Murray is that there are tons of 4- and 5-pound fish in this lake. So you can get right in a hurry. I'd love to win this event. Winning the $100,000 would be nice but winning the national championship title and getting to fish in the Forrest Wood Cup would be unbelievable. Basically, right now, I'm just a small-town kid from Kansas living a dream."
While Auburn and Kansas State both have a very realistic chance at securing the prestigious title, today's outcome is still very much in doubt. With Clemson University (third), Kennesaw State University (fourth) and Virginia Tech (fifth) all within 5 pounds of the leaders, some potentially game-changing weather conditions on the horizon and a host of weekend boater traffic on the lake, there are far too many variables to start crowning a champion just yet.
"The big thing today is going to be the wind," said Matt Lee. "When you're dealing with water as clear as this, the wind really breaks things up and makes it easier (to fool) the bass. It also can push the baitfish right up on the points and, if that happens, the bass really get into a feeding mode. So I think you could see some big bags caught because those fish are going to eat today."
Patterson agrees that the tournament outcome is still very much up in the air.
"I still think any of the teams can win right now," said Patterson. "My game plan is to make good decision and get every fish in the boat. Personally, I'm shooting for 20 pounds today. I've been around some big fish all week so it's definitely possible. Winning this tournament is very doable."
While the conditions could play a major factor in today's final day of tournament action, the Auburn squad said that it is prepared for virtually every contingency.
"We know what baits to use when it's slick calm or when the wind is blowing," said Lee. "We've been consistent all week. Our goal is to bring in 18 pounds. But if we bring in 16 pounds and somebody comes back with 19 or 20 pounds to beat us, then they'll deserve the title."
Meet the contenders
Here's a brief look at the top-five team finalists:
Auburn University (first place with 32-4) - Jordan Lee, Vinemont, Ala., and Matt Lee, Auburn, Ala.
Kansas State University (second with 28-14) - Ryan Patterson, both of Goddard, Kan.
Clemson University (third with 28-9) - Andy Wicker, Pomaria, S.C., and Harold Turner, Sumter, S.C.
Kennesaw State University (fourth with 28-5) - Thomas Frink, Woodstock, Ga., and Justin Marlow, Kennesaw, Ga..
Virginia Tech (fifth with 27-4) - Wyatt Blevins, Pulaski, Va., and Carson Rejzer, Hampton, Va.
Teams are permitted to bring as many as five fish to the scales during each weigh-in. After the conclusion of Sunday's weigh-in, the tournament title will be awarded to the college team that has recorded the most combined weight over all three days of competition.
The national championship awards the top team with $50,000 cash, a Ranger 177TR with a 90-horsepower engine for their school's bass club and $25,000 for the school they represent.
Sunday's final weigh-in will commence at *4:30 p.m. All weigh-ins will be adjacent to the Carolina Baseball Stadium on the University of South Carolina campus located at the corner of Blossom and Williams streets in Columbia.
(Note: *Final weigh-in on Sunday will immediately follow the University of South Carolina baseball game and is subject to change).
How they got here
Four regular-season events were held in each conference - Central, Northern, Southeastern, Texas and Western. The top five teams in each qualifying event advanced to one of five televised three-day National Guard FLW College Fishing Conference Championships. The top five teams from each conference championship advanced to this year's national championship, and the winner of the national championship will qualify for the 2012 Forrest Wood Cup. The Forrest Wood Cup, the world championship of bass fishing, will be held Aug. 9-12 on Lake Lanier in Duluth, Ga., and will offer the collegiate anglers the opportunity to compete for a top award of $500,000. The national champions also will receive use of a wrapped boat and Chevy truck for Forrest Wood Cup competition.
Bass-fishing fans take note
Want to watch the national championship weigh-in live but can't make it in person? Then tune into FLW Live on FLWOutdoors.com shortly before 4 p.m. Eastern time to watch live streaming video and audio of today's opening-round weigh in.
In conjunction with the tournament, college fishing fans can also take part in The FLW Tailgate Zone, which includes a sports zone, tailgate games, climbing wall and Ranger boat simulator. The Tailgate Zone will take place today from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. and will be located adjacent to the Carolina Baseball Stadium.
Coverage of the National Guard FLW College Fishing National Championship, hosted by the Capital City/Lake Murray Country RTB, will be broadcast in high-definition (HD) on NBC Sports Network. "FLW" will air May 27 from 1 to 2 p.m. ET. "FLW," hosted by Jason Harper, is broadcast to more than 500 million households worldwide.
Sunrise: 6:53 a.m.
Temperature at takeoff: 60 degrees
Expected high temperature: 86 degrees
Water temperature: 64-70 degrees
Wind: From the south-southwest at 12 mph
Humidity: 61 percent
Day's outlook: Mostly sunny
Live on-the-water coverage
Meet the 2012 FLW College Fishing National Championship teams
FLW Tailgate Zone