UPCOMING EVENT: PHOENIX BASS FISHING LEAGUE - 2020 - Lake Wylie

College Open Prize Pool Bigger than Ever

College Open Prize Pool Bigger than Ever
Dylan True and Matthew Lamastus of the University of Tennessee at Martin took the day-one lead at the 2017 YETI FLW College Fishing Open on Kentucky Lake with a 25-pound, 15-ounce limit.

The annual Abu Garcia College Fishing presented by YETI Open returns to Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley in mid-March for the sixth consecutive season. This time around, however, the stakes are even higher, as teams compete for a brand-new Phoenix 518 Pro bass boat, 20 spots in the 2021 National Championship and 20 spots in the all-new Major League Fishing College Faceoff presented by Wiley X in Raleigh, N.C., later this spring.

 

Tournament details

Abu Garcia College Fishing presented by YETI Open

Kentucky Lake

Gilbertsville, Ky.

March 17-18, 2020

REGISTER HERE

 

Chase Serafin, Cody Batterson

Major prizes

Before we get to the fishing, let’s start with what can be won. Here’s the rundown:

- The winning team at the Open takes home a Phoenix 518 Pro bass boat powered by a 115-hp Suzuki outboard worth $33,500.

- The top 20 teams at the Open qualify for the 2021 Abu Garcia College Fishing presented by YETI National Championship.

- Twenty teams will qualify to fish the MLF College Faceoff presented by Wiley X on April 4 in Raleigh, N.C., in conjunction with the 2020 MLF Bass Pro Tour Berkley Stage Four Presented by Covercraft on Jordan Lake, Falls Lake and Shearon Harris Reservoir. The competition lake for the Faceoff will be announced later.

Qualification will be determined by combining the Tackle Warehouse School of the Year points earned by the top two teams from each school at the Open. The 10 schools with the most combined points will send their top two teams to the Faceoff.

 

How the lake sets up

Kentucky Lake (on the Tennessee River) and Lake Barkley (on the Cumberland River) are about as well known to tournament anglers as any reservoirs in the eastern U.S. They’re vast, at 160,000 acres on Kentucky and 58,000 on Barkley, and stretch farther from north-to-south than a bass angler could possibly travel in a single tournament day.

Takeoff is at Moors Resort & Marina, which is only 7 miles south of the dam at Kentucky Lake’s far northern end. The two reservoirs run parallel to one another, with Kentucky on the west and Barkley on the east. Getting to Barkley from Moors takes about 10 to 15 minutes via a canal that slices across the mostly undeveloped Land Between the Lakes (LBL), a U.S. Forest Service National Recreation Area that rests between the reservoirs.

The western shore of Kentucky Lake and eastern shore of Barkley are more heavily developed than their LBL sides, with lakeside homes that include docks and riprap-stabilized shorelines. In between, there are stump fields, brush piles, points, shallow bars, vast flats, and untold miles of river and creek ledges where bass are known to hole up just about any time of year.

The catch this year is that the Tennessee and Cumberland basins have been drenched with rain, resulting in tremendous current ripping through the system and two water-level spikes in Kentucky Lake that saw it shoot up from about 354 feet above sea level (normal winter pool) to 357 in January and 358 in February. The Tennessee Valley Authority managed to bring the lake back down to almost 354 by March 3. The amount of rainfall and resulting current leading up to and during the event will be major factors in the outcome.

 

Coly Floyd, Carter McNeil

What to expect

Last season, the anglers fishing the College Open flat out smashed ’em, with the top three teams all weighing in 20-plus-pound limits both days and 21 teams surpassing the 20-pound mark on day one.

Those weights were buoyed by heavy current and high water (about 357 feet, or 3 feet over winter pool) that actually rose a little during the tournament. We could see the same thing this year if conditions align, but that’s a very unpredictable “if.”

“It’s all about what kind of water is coming; what kind of rains we get,” says Toyota Series pro and local guide Brandon Hunter. “For the last few weeks, it’s just done nothing but rain. If that happens and conditions set up like last year for the college event, well, you saw how good it was.

“It was a perfect storm. They were pulling a lot of water. Every bass on the lake was pulled up on a current break, and that’s why the guys made it look so easy.”

Even if the tournament takes place in more typical conditions, Hunter expects a lot of fish to be caught. He also predicts a major disparity between the top few teams and the rest of the field.

“The good news is there are a lot of 12- to 14-inch fish in the lakes right now,” he says. “The thing is, I think we’re about a year or two away from a lot of those being actual keeper-sized fish. It’s tough to predict weights because there’s still a lot of big fish in the lake. If it sets up right, we could see more of those 20-pound bags. Even if it’s more normal, we’re just now starting to see the sunshine a little bit. The fish will start getting a little more active and get up on the bank. So I think the winning weight will be in the typical low 20s, but it’s going to drop off from there.”

 

Tristan McCormick, Dakota Pierce

Baits and techniques

According to Hunter, the once impressive schools of mega-sized threadfin shad in Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley have decreased in recent years. As a result, the bass have taken to foraging on other types of baitfish and last year’s shad in shallow water in the creeks.

“The water temperature is already hanging around in the low 50s, which is perfect for springtime shallow cranking,” he says. “The jerkbait will probably still play a factor just because it is springtime and they’ll usually bite a jerkbait, but water clarity will kind of have to do with that because it is pretty stained right now. If conditions stabilize and they quit pulling so much current, the water will clear up and they’ll really start to bite a jerkbait again.”

A lipless crankbait, swimbait, vibrating jig and umbrella rig are also major players in the spring. If the water does come up and gets into some shoreline bushes, bass can be caught flipping. A surging smallmouth bass population has also contributed to some decent bags in recent years. Smallies will eat crankbaits, Ned rigs and a host of other offerings, particularly on gravel banks on the main lake.

Finally, college anglers that have time to practice will want to at least sample some of the waters in different parts of the system. The south end of Kentucky Lake dominated for a number of years due to its lush grass growth. Though the grass is pretty well gone now, the area from Paris, Tenn., to New Johnsonville is legendary. Lake Barkley has produced some winning bags in recent seasons, too, including the April 2019 Toyota Series event. There’s shallow cover to flip and crank on Barkley even during winter pool, so it’s worth a look. The north end of Kentucky has great fishing and is the safest bet if the wind blows, but it’ll probably get a lot of pressure.  

In other words, there’s a lot to consider in this one, and a lot of potential for FLW’s college standouts.

Tags: curtis-niedermier  pre-tournament  2020-03-17-kentucky-barkley-lake 

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