March 3, 2014 by Joe Zapf - Ramapo College Bass Fishing Team
In less than two weeks the top 50 college teams in the country will compete for the biggest title of the college season, the FLW College Fishing National Championship. It is the most important tournament for any college angler, and the winning team will have the chance to move on to the biggest tournament in bass fishing, the Forrest Wood Cup. As I am sitting up here in northern New Jersey at Ramapo College, I cannot wait to head down to South Carolina's Lake Keowee and get the tournament started.
For me it will be a pleasure returning to this tournament. I was fortunate enough to qualify for the FLW College Fishing National Championship in 2012 and 2013, but this time around the tournament is really special for me. I will be fishing with my younger brother Andy, a sophomore at Ramapo College, and it will be really cool being able to fish with him this time around. We have been fishing together since we were kids, began tournament fishing together in a youth club for the N.J. Bass Federation, moved on to FLW College Fishing, and now find ourselves sitting in the National Championship, one tournament win away from qualifying for the most prestigious tournament in all of bass fishing, the Forest Wood Cup. It would be a dream come true to win this year's college national championship and make it to that event. And one lucky team will soon get that chance.
Our road to the National Championship began back in April of last year. The Northern FLW Conference kicked off its season at Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia, where we had never fished before in our lives. We spent hours at home going over maps, preparing for the tournament and we finally settled on a stretch of water we thought we could find some remaining spawning fish. When our day began we started out with two quick keepers, but then things got real tough until about 10:30 a.m. We went way in the back of a little pocket and there she was, about a 5-pounder cruising the bank. After about 90 minutes of painstaking fishing, we were able to put her in the boat after she fell for a white tube. We then caught fish number four, and caught number five with about 10 minutes left to spare before heading back in for the weigh in. We knew we most likely fell inside the top 15 cut to qualify for the Invitational, but when tournament director Kevin Hunt announced that we had won, the feeling was absolutely incredible. For us to win our first college tournament together was really special and from there we had our sights set on making the National Championship.
However, the Chesapeake Bay event still stood in our way.
The Northern Conference Invitational last September is an event I will never forget. We had practiced a few weeks prior to the event and although the Chesapeake Bay is one of our favorite places to fish, we really could not get much going. We were struggling. Therefore, during the tournament we ended up making a long run south, and focused on one little pocket off the bay with a line of lily pads in the back of this cove. While we weren't catching many fish, but the ones we did get in practice were good ones. When we got there on the first day of the tournament we put two fish in the boat quickly, one on a frog, and one flipping the pads. After such a great start we never would have guessed that those would be our only two fish of the entire tournament. To say that the Chesapeake Bay was exceptionally tough that week was an understatement. On top of that, by about 10:00 am each morning, the water in the cove we were fishing began dropping. The first day Andy and I only had about two hours to fish before our boat was scraping on sand on the bottom. In fact we were lucky that the tide didn't drop all the way out on us, but we took a chance and had to fish this area regardless even though we only got about two hours out of it. Fortunately, the tough Chesapeake bite wasn't just the story for us that week as the 45 teams in the tournament felt the pressure as well. Our 7-pound, 1-ounce bag was enough to carry us into seventh place after day one, get us into day two, and just barely qualify us for the National Championship. Our goal was now complete. We finally made the tournament we worked so hard to get to.
Now, I sit here six months later. All the map studying is done, the practice period is over, the hours of preparation are completed, and all that is left is a few more days here in New Jersey - and then a 12-hour drive to South Carolina.
Overall, I'm feeling really prepared for the tournament and I cannot wait to get started. For most of us up here in the North, it'll be our first tournament of the year, so I've had plenty of time to organize my tackle and equipment. I really can't wait to get the 2014 fishing season started.
And what a better way to do it than fishing in the 2014 FLW College Fishing National Championship. It's going to be an awesome week.
The 2014 FLW College Fishing National Championship is presented by Lowrance Insight Genesis College Cup.
To see Joseph Zapf's college fishing profile, click here.
To see a complete list of this year's qualifiers, click here.