MUSKEGON, Mich. — “It’s like déjà vu all over again” to borrow a phrase from baseball great Yogi Berra. During Saturday’s weigh-in of the Carhartt Bassmaster College Classic Bracket, the competition eliminated two anglers, leaving two anglers from Auburn University, garbed in orange and blue jerseys, to face off on the final competition day on Michigan’s Grand River.
In last year’s version of the same competition, Auburn University students, teammates and brothers Jordan Lee and Matt Lee went head-to-head on the final day. The elder sibling, Matt, won the Classic berth in the anguished finale.
This time around, Jordan is locked in battle with former teammate and longtime best friend Shane Powell.
To make it to the final round in the bracket-style competition, Lee brought in a five-bass limit weighing 10-1 to overcome Eastern Washington University’s Nick Barr, who had three bass weighing 5-1. Powell had a limit of 11-7 to defeat Jacob Nummy of Auburn University at Montgomery, who weighed five bass for 8-3.
Weights have been zeroed for the final match-up Sunday.
For Lee, finding the fish and determining what they would bite was a challenge.
“I caught my big one early this morning,” he said. “It was a little tougher today, though. The wind and boat traffic hurt what I was a doing.”
Lee had been fishing docks, but had to change things up to compensate for the new conditions.
“I caught four of my five bass using different baits,” Lee said. “I used a square bill crankbait, a Booyah spinnerbait, a Booyah Pad Crasher frog and was flipping a Yum Wooly Bug. I was junk fishing and mixing it up. This is a tough place to fish. There’s not just one thing that will work in this tournament.”
With the location of the fish so difficult to pinpoint, Lee is planning to cover a lot of water on the final tournament day. “I’m going to pretend there’s a fish everywhere I stop. You don’t know where the next bite is going to be. It’s pretty random,” he said.
On Friday, Powell said he hoped the tournament would come down to a contest between him and his best friend — not because he wants to fish against Lee, his fishing partner for four years, but, “I just want him to win or me to win.”
“Now, that’s the way it’s going to be,” Powell said Saturday.
Powell boated his biggest bass of the day close to the takeoff ramp within the first 10 minutes of competition.
“After that, I made a move and went up the river and caught another good one, my second biggest,” Powell said. “I didn’t catch another one for four hours. Then I went back to the place where I caught my second big one and finished my limit.”
Powell caught six keeper bass today. “It’s really hard to find the big ones,” he said.
Declining to discuss his strategy, Powell did say he’s fishing a 2-mile stretch of lily pads, moving from one end to the other. Like Lee, Powell said the bass seemed to be scattered.
Powell said he hasn’t seen Lee much during the tournament — they aren’t sharing information and are not fishing the same areas.
“We’ve both kept to ourselves. I’m doing my thing, and he’s doing his,” Powell said. “The biggest thing I’m working on in this tournament is adjusting. Instead of having a set game plan and sticking to it, if it doesn’t work, I scratch it and move on.”
Tougher than the fishing is the emotional toll this tournament will inevitably take on the two Auburn anglers, the sole competitors Sunday on Grand River.
“It’s good for both of us to have a chance at this, but it’s going to be really tough for one person,” Lee said. “I was on that end last year. You do a lot of fishing to get here — it’s where you want to be, but you know it’s going to be a dream for one and tough for the other. He’s my best friend, and if I’m not going to win it, I would want him to be the one to go to the Classic.”
The angler at the top on Sunday will receive an invitation to compete alongside the pros in the 2014 Bassmaster Classic out of Birmingham, Ala., Feb. 21-23. He will also receive $5,000 from Carhartt and the use of a fully rigged and college-color-wrapped Toyota Tacoma to pull a Skeeter FX20 powered by a Yamaha SHO 250. The winner also will receive entries for the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens series of his choice.
The competition is part of Toyota All-Star Week and Evan Williams Bourbon Championship, Sept. 27-29, in Muskegon, Mich. Takeoff will be at 7:15 a.m. ET Sunday at Fruitport Charter Township Public Launch. The college anglers will weigh their catches at 4 p.m. ET at Heritage Landing, 1050 7th St., Muskegon, MI 49440.