It’s August 3, 2013 and I’m driving home from Chatuge Lake. Yes, it was the third and final day of the National Championship, but I wasn’t a part of it. Unfortunately, my partner and I finished 56th out of 64 teams and felt like Chatuge had beat me up all week.
Congratulations to Tom Frink and Jacob Nummy who took home the title later that day because they truly beat a star studded top-five.
Tournament fishing is a humbling sport and that was the moment that hit me between the eyes and showed me how tough and competitive college fishing is. Not only did that motivate me to get back to the National Championship, but it was my number one priority.
Skip ahead to the June 12-13 event on Watts Bar Lake. If you read my previous story, I spoke of learning on the fly while still competing in events. In the East Regional I fished alone and the results showed it as I didn’t qualify for the championship, but by way of the College Wildcard, I had the final chance that I so desired.
“Last chance to make it happen.”
Pickwick Lake was the venue for 109 teams hoping to punch their ticket to the National Championship and keep the door open to that coveted Bassmaster Classic berth. Even though I’ve lived in North Carolina for the last 15 years, I have some prior experience on the Alabama body of water, but it was going to be a fight to the end.
With almost half of the wildcard field from Alabama and Tennessee, it would be hard to beat “locals” in a sense and beat the Tennessee River just enough to qualify.
My partner Mike Corbishley and I talked about our gameplan all week, but one thing was for sure: scanning for most of the practice days was going to be necessary.
Quality over Quantity
That was the goal. It’s cool to catch tons of fish and sit on mega schools, but this time of the year was going to be a grind. So we looked for those big arches…and I mean big arches. Those schools may only have 20-30 fish in them, but they were the big ones that we wanted to grind it out for.
On the final practice day we went and caught one fish out of each school just to see the size we were dealing with. Well when Mike caught a 6+ and a 9 pounder in a matter of minutes we knew it was going to be an interesting event.
Drawing boat 92 of 109 added anxiety to the mix
When ledge fishing on the Tennessee River, even spots with no boats in practice will have boats in the tournament. Our case was no different, but most boats weren’t fishing the spot correctly in our opinion. Either they were right on top of the school or their bait choice was incorrect. After a short time, many boats left our best spots after no productivity to start the tournament, but we stayed. Grinding out the bites can be easier when you know the size of the fish lurking below.
Bringing 17-7 to the scales was so rewarding, especially with a 6, 5 and 4 in the bag, but culling those two small ones was something we needed. Jumping off a four-pounder early on day 1 didn’t help.
Day 2 was a better morning as we blasted off 18th and actually caught fish early in the day, unlike Day 1 where all of bag basically came from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Having a limit weigh heavier than expected is a good problem to have and that was the case for Day 2. When we thought we had 12 and a half to 13 pounds, we were worried. But when we had 13-13, it took some weight off our chests ever so slightly. Top 17 was the goal…that was the cutline. Doesn’t matter if you are first or 17th, as long as you’re in.
We were top 10 for the longest time, but then we fell to 14th and we knew the top 5 from yesterday was going to pass us once again.
Lets add it up
Three teams were already qualified for the National Championship and thankfully they were inside the cut. So add three to the original 17…that means the top 20 advances. Exhale.
With over a dozen teams left to weigh-in, there was no breathing room and I felt that specifically in my gut.
Once everyone weighed in and Dalton Wilson and Randall Morris from Bethel University were crowned champions…we had made it. CLINCHED!
After almost a full year of waiting and planning, I am headed back to the National Championship and this time redemption is on my mind. It is an exciting feeling and an honor to be a repeat angler. This sport treats its athletes like no other organization and I’m blessed to be a part of college fishing.
Back to Chatuge
Last year was a spectacle as the weigh-ins were packed, the sponsors showed up big and the locals loved us tremendously. I know that since College Bass made the trip to Young Harris, Ga. that high school fishing has become a big thing around the area. This is beneficial to both the young anglers and the sport of bass fishing. Towns like Hayesville, NC that had some fishing interest now has a steady high school trail with 10-20 boats at every scheduled tournament. To be a part of the process is something pretty special to me.
As if my eyes weren’t focused on the prize already, I am chomping at the bit to hit the water when official practice opens. Thank you to everyone who made this possible and for the support I have received from friends, family and sponsors. Not to mention East Carolina Club Sports which gives us the ability to compete.