April 20, 2013 by Gary Mortenson
ROGERS, Ark. - Although the duo of Dustin Connell of Clanton, Ala., and Logan Johnson of Jasper, Ala., couldn't quite duplicate the 18-pound-plus stringer they hauled in on day one, their 10-pound catch during the second day of tournament action on Beaver Lake was more than enough to propel the University of Alabama into the finals of the 2013 FLW College Fishing National Championship as the No. 1 seed overall.
Bolstered by a total two-day catch of 28 pounds, 8 ounces, the Crimson Tide now holds a narrow 7-ounce lead over their next closest competitors heading into the finals.
"It really hasn't set in yet that we're leading this tournament," said Connell. "But tonight, I might settle down and realize that tomorrow will be the biggest day of my career. It's just an awesome feeling right now. It's great. I couldn't have asked for a better two days of fishing. We're truly blessed."
Although the Tide is exactly where it hoped to be at the end of day two when the top-five cut was announced, the team said it was far from easy - especially given Saturday's changing conditions.
"It was a real grind out there all day," said Johnson. "We're really hoping for some sun and some wind today and we really didn't get it."
"It was definitely tough out there today and I ain't lying," said Connell. "The whole lake changed up today. Some parts of the lake got better and some got a lot worse. Our water cleared up and we didn't have one fish in the boat at 10 a.m. So we basically started fishing at 11 a.m. We only wound up with about seven keepers overall."
The Tide said it targeted largemouth bass in creek mouths in about 10 feet of water, fishing the mid-river with a Strike King jerkbait and an Alabama rig.
But while they're happy to be in the lead, the team knows that tomorrow could bring anything - especially given the fact that the entire top-five field is separated by a little more than 2 pounds.
"We have to go out there tomorrow and hope for the best," said Connell. "We're going to have to fish the conditions but we might have to throw something different tomorrow and switch things up depending on the weather. We definitely want more wind because without wind, this lake gets really tough."
But having the lead heading into the finals is surely a lot better than playing catch up.
"If we get the right bites and the right conditions, I really like our chances tomorrow," said Johnson. "We have a 7-ounce lead right now and 7 ounces could make a huge difference."
Angelo State makes a run
With a top-five cut looming in today's competition, Angelo State anglers Ethan George of San Angelo, Texas, and Josh Seale of Breckenridge, Texas, knew they'd have to make a move if they were to improve their 11th-place finish on day one. And that's exactly what they did. Bolstered by a day-two catch of 15 pounds, 14 ounces, Angelo State shot all the way up the leaderboard into the second qualifying position heading into the finals.
"Man, it's a great feeling," said Seale on making the finals. "I've been so close before to qualifying for the national championship but it never happened (until now). And now we're going to be fishing in the finals. So to be here right now is really a dream come true. I think we're only 7 ounces out of first place so it really is anyone's game tomorrow. And whoever puts it all together is going to win this. I just hope it's us."
After yesterday's performance, Angelo State decided to go back to the drawing board to try and put together a more effective strategy for targeting fickle Beaver Lake.
"I started looking at the contour lines (of the lake) and I decided to just starting fishing Beaver like the way I would my home lake," said George. "So that's what we did. We went power fishing, moved around a lot and threw big baits. And it paid off."
"We threw a little bit of everything today," said Seale, whose team takes a two-day total of 28 pounds, 1 ounce into the finals.
The duo said they didn't fish any deeper than 20 feet while targeting bass with a combination of crankbaits, swimbaits and a few other techniques thrown in as well.
"We have about three or four baits and the key is just figuring out which one of those baits the fish want to eat each day," said George. "It's really important for us to try and be consistent. And continue to fish our main area."
According to George, they have one vast area that they haven't even yet fully explored.
"With what we're doing and the amount of water we have to cover, we haven't even begun to scratch the surface of our area. And I know, if everything falls into place, we can come out of there with a 20-pound bag. It's definitely possible."
ULM gets on the map
Another team outside the top-10 after the first day of competition was the University of Louisiana-Monroe squad comprised of Paul Clark of Monroe, La., and Brett Preuett of Pineville, La. With only a little more than 10 pounds to show for their day-one efforts and a host of teams ahead of them in the standings, it was clear that it was going to take a Herculean effort to make today's top-five cut.
But that's precisely what they pulled off. Hauling in the largest sack of the day at 17 pounds, 6 ounces, Preuett and Clark shot all the way up the leaderboard into the third-place qualifying position when all was said and done.
"It feels great," said Preuett of his team's day-two effort. "We knew we had to catch a big sack to make it and it happened. And right off the bat, at about 8:30 a.m., we had our limit."
Preuett said that his team pulled up to a spot first thing in the morning and he immediately hooked into a 7-pound, 4-ounce largemouth bass using one of his friend's homemade jigs.
"I told Paul this morning that we're going to have to catch a donkey and a whole lot more fish after that," said Preuett. "And that's exactly what we did."
The team said it primarily targeted suspended largemouth bass on rock and wood in about 10 to 30 feet of water.
"We have two baits, one for clear water and one for muddy water," said Clark. "And so far, it's worked out pretty well."
Not surprisingly, ULM is ecstatic to be fishing on Sunday with a chance at a national championship title and an opportunity to put their school on the map.
"It really feels great," said Preuett. "To come up here to a lake we're not used to fishing at all and to make the finals - you can't beat it."
"And if we win the title, we'll qualify for the Forrest Wood Cup," added Clark. "And this year, the Cup is on our home waters of the Red River. So we really want to win."
Auburn qualifies for finals ... again
While most of the top-five competitors seemed like kids in a candy store with unlimited funds shortly after day-two weigh-in, one angler appeared to be significantly more subdued - Jordan Lee of Auburn University. However, if you know Lee's background his demeanor would be a little less surprising. You see, this championship represents Lee's third trip to the FLW College Fishing National Championship finals.
"Yeah, but I haven't won anything yet," he said.
But with only a 2-pound, 3-ounce deficit to make up, it's entirely possible that Lee and his fellow Auburn teammate Shane Powell of Dothan, Ala., will finally get the coveted prize they've been eyeing for years.
"It's great," said Lee, of Cullman, Ala. "I'm glad I'm here. It's all we've thought about for a long while. We're really close to the leaders, so we have a really good chance to win."
Bolstered by a two-day catch of 26 pounds, 5 ounces, Auburn heads into the finals in fourth place overall. But again, the task of nailing down a championship title won't be easy - as Lee knows all too well.
"We really don't know this lake very well," said Lee. "So we're just going to go out there and go fishing. We're really going to be fishing on instinct for the most part."
So far the team has found success flipping to shallow cover, around the Prairie Creek area.
"That's what we have most confidence in," said Lee. "And hopefully it will work out for us tomorrow. But we'll just have to see."
UNC - Charlotte grabs final qualifying spot
Although the University of North Carolina-Charlotte team of Shane Lehew of Charlotte, N.C., and Adam Waters of Denver, N.C., recorded an identical weight to Auburn, by virtue of a tiebreaker, the team technically qualified for the finals in fifth place. But no matter, the team is right where it wants to be - fishing in the finals of the national championship.
"We're definitely glad to be here. It's really cool," said Waters. "At least we have a shot to win the title."
The team said it's been mixing it up more than most teams throughout the tournament, trying to read the intricate waters of Beaver Lake with each passing hour.
"Timing is really important on this lake," said Waters. "And we've caught fish on something different every day. Yesterday we threw the A-rig and a jig. And today we threw a jerkbait, swimbait, Shaky Head and a drop-shot. So you really have to be versatile to have a chance."
And like every team heading into tomorrow's finals, it's a chance of a lifetime.
For a complete list or results, click here.
Tournament info and logistics
The entire 2013 FLW College Fishing National Championship field competed for two days with the top-five college teams advancing to the third and final day of competition based on their overall accumulated weight. 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 a $30,000 prize package, including a Ranger Z117 with a 90-horsepower engine and an entry into the 2013 Forrest Wood Cup. The team member fishing as a pro in the Forrest Wood Cup also receives the use of a wrapped Ranger Boat and Chevy tow vehicle.
Final takeoff for the national championship will take place at 7 a.m. Sunday morning at Prairie Creek Park, located at 9300 N. Park Road in Rogers, Ark. Final weigh-ins will take place at 4 p.m. at Walmart, located at 2110 W. Walnut Street in Rogers, Ark.
FLW also will be hosting the College Fishing Expo on Sunday. Expo activities include a sports zone, tailgate games, sponsor giveaways and a Ranger boat simulator and will run from noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday. The Expo will take place at Walmart, located at 2110 W. Walnut Street in Rogers, Ark.
2013 FLW College Fishing National Championship PodCast