Alone but not lonely

One-man team from University of South Carolina-Upstate holds own despite odds

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — When college bass angler Pete Sherbert learned that his partner Colin Coffman wouldn't be making the 12-hour drive to Little Rock for the 2007 Under Armor College Bass National Championship because of a family emergency, the 23-year-old Sherbert did not ask any questions.

Both men knew what Sherbert had to do.

After preparing his boat, trailer and tackle, Sherbert headed out Monday night with his father by his side.

"Nothing is bigger than family," Sherbert said. "I don't care what you had planned on doing."

Working in a hospital over the course of his four years back in his hometown of Spartanburg, the USC Upstate Senior had many life experiences helping the elderly and the infirmed.

And Sherbert knew that even if he would be fishing alone in the College Bass National Championship, he would be helping his friend.

Sherbert, a marketing major with a 3.4 GPA, began the USC-Upstate fishing club less than a year ago. He admitted that a rough freshman year coupled with a fierce passion for fishing year hurt his grades somewhat.

Sherbert took great pride in the fact that despite its short existence, the club had since climbed to five members.

"Being that I'm a senior, I really hope this thing grows," he said. "That would mean a lot."

Coffman, who had qualified for the National Championship with Sherbert, is also one of the club's charter members.

Once College Bass officials learned of Sherbert's situation, they ruled that he could fish alone. His partner in the boat at this tournament became an ESPNOutdoors.com writer on assignment to observe the young angler and write about the experience.

Before sunrise on Day One, teams of anglers shared jokes and worked together to prepare for their day. But Sherbert, a confident former high school linebacker, was all set. So he began joining conversations and making friends.

After seeing thick smoke emerging from the engine onboard the Oklahoma State University team's boat, Sherbert suggested trying a manual pump to get oil into the engine. The trick seemed to work and the Cowboys thanked Sherbert constantly for his tip.

"Anything I can do to help you boys out, let me know," Sherbert said with a uniquely sincere tone to his light South Carolina mountain accent.

"I hate to see people like that," Sherbert whispered to his impressed boat mate.

But Sherbert would continue to impress his observer throughout the day — especially in regard to his fishing prowess.

The angler sped off, heading for an hour-long run that take them past the David D. Terry Lock and Dam.

"I'd never been in a lock before this week," Sherbert said. "We just don't have 'em in South Carolina. Just reservoirs. But to see that water come up so quickly is really something."

Earlier in the week, the angler had almost learned the hard way that boaters should never tie down without slack in an anchoring rope while locking.

Once out of the lock, Sherbert ran another half hour before turning up a hard bend in the main river channel.

"Where I'm from there's a lot of structure, so we're going to the only place I know where there is some," Sherbert said. "Plus this way I can get away from everybody else."

After a relatively calm run, Sherbert cut off the main engine, pulled out three fishing poles, and eagerly dropped his trolling motor into the water.

The South Carolinian had won two Falcon rods the night before at the reception dinner's raffle. Perhaps divine compensation played a role in his prizes.

"It's gonna blow out here today," he said, precisely landing a green spinnerbait between a dock's edge and a trot line.

Besides the occasional spinnerbait, a Tequila Sunrise jig with a blue trailer would prove to be Sherbert's weapon of choice for the remainder of the day.

"I call this one a Pistol Pete special, because I make my own jigs," Sherbert said, "And that rod there," he pointed, "has my name etched on it

Within thirty minutes, "Pistol Pete" had his first bite. The angler had pitched his lure into a brushpile and the fish came off his hook as he attempted to swing it into his boat.

"This is what I wanted to see," Sherbert said. "These bass are holding up close to the cover because it's so muddy out there. I'm looking for that reaction strike.

Sherbert's proficiency flipping drew honest praise from a writer who was more accustomed to the efforts produced by professional anglers on the BASS Elite Series. The humble recipient shrugged off the compliments, instead, asking for on-the-water stories about his bass fishing heroes.

By Noon, Sherbert had managed to find three keepers over Arkansas' 15-inch size limit. But he had also caught six other fish using the very same technique.

"They are either on the corners of docks or back there in the really shallow water," Sherbert said. And sure enough, he was right.

One particular cast, over a brushpile with dock-anchoring cables that guarded the entrance, landed softly in a corner hole. Sherbert felt like it was a good cast because he squatted down and watched the hole like an eagle.

Suddenly the hole erupted in splashes. The fish's back, alone, looked larger than anything he was holding in his livewell. But as the angler tried desperately to pull it over a log, the bass spit the lure.

"No!" Sherbert shouted in a rare burst of anger. "Oh my gosh, no!"

But it only took him two pops of his lemon-lime flavored Bubble Yum to get over the loss.

"That's what happens when you're fishing this deep cover," he said. "You can get in, but sometimes you just can't get 'em out."

Just after 1 p.m., Sherbert decided three fish would be his day's limit. When all was said and done, he had boated eleven fish in total. The boat would have to travel back through waters hammered by high winds all day and there would be no telling how long the lock would take, so he didn't want to risk getting back late.

Sherbert made it back in plenty of time for the weigh-in.

"South Carolina," as tournament director Steve Bowman affectionately called Sherbert, currently sits in 9th place with eight pounds, nine ounces.

He intends to return to the same spot again on Day Two.

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