TAVARES, Fla. - Zach Parker and Matthew Roberts of Bethel University lapped the majority of the field on Day One of the Carhartt College Series Southern Regional on the Harris Chain with a monster catch of 29-2 anchored by the Carhartt Big Bass of 9-11.
Though many anglers complained of tough fishing and foul weather, the duo from Bethel silenced the competition while simultaneously setting the all-time single-day heavyweight record and the all-time big bass record for the Carhartt College Series.
Bethel’s day didn’t start with a bang, however.
“We had one spot on Eustis that we found in practice where we caught some 2-pounders,” said Roberts. “We stopped there first and never got a bite. That kind of got us down because we thought we could catch a limit there pretty easy.”
They didn’t stay down long though. Making a run to Big Harris, the team headed straight for a date with destiny. Their next stop was the best of the day for any boat in the field.
“We found this staging spot on Harris out in front of some vegetation in practice,” said Parker. “It’s got a little drop on it where the fish are staging. It’s about a hundred-yard stretch and the big ones are on a spot within the spot.”
“On his first cast Zach caught one of the big ones,” Roberts said.
The next two hours were composed of 30 to 35 fish catches, including three fish over 4-pounds.
“We said if we caught one more big one we’d leave,” said Parker. “We came back down and got right on our waypoint and the big one smoked it. She jumped
twice and after we got her in the boat we were pretty much done.”
Capping off an astonishing two hours of fishing with their 9-11 kicker, Bethel opted to leave the honey hole around noon.
“Today if we were anywhere near the trail we were supposed to be on we’d get a bite every 10 to 15 minutes,” said Parker.
Roberts added, “If we had sat there all day, who knows what we could have caught.”
Tomorrow will tell, as both team members adamantly swear they aren’t leaving that spot until time for check-in.
Thomas Oltorik and Scott Heaberlin of Daytona State College sit in second after Day One with 21-7.
“We started off this morning throwing a spinnerbait and caught a smaller limit,” said Oltorik. “Then we started flipping and basically just put our heads down and started fishing hard.”
“Fishing hard” is synonymous with grinding it out which is a must when the weather turns sour in Florida. Florida strain bass are particularly moody and a rainy day with a high of 61 is not what’s needed to make these bass jump on the hook.
“Basically, if you want to catch fish out here right now you have to fish hard and flipping is a great way to do that,” said Oltorik.
Flipping is as "high-risk-high-reward" as it gets, since you typically only get a handful of bites in a day’s time. Efficiency is everything.
“We were a hundred percent today,” said Heaberlin. “We had 8 bites and that was a good day.”
Heaberlin and Oltorik are bouncing from Big Harris to Eustis and not staying on any certain spot for long. They’re hoping their run-and-gun method will outlast the teams relying on one or two areas.
The Auburn University team of Chris Seals and Matt Lee sits in third after Day One. Lee, who will represent the Carhartt College Series in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic, is excited about moving one step closer to a repeat.
“If we could qualify here, I’m only one tournament away from making it to the Classic again on Lake Guntersville,” said Lee.
That it just added pressure to the task at hand. Today Lee and Seals were surprised when they found big ones in an area that they thought only had about 12-pounds of potential.
“We’re fishing in a big backwater on Griffin that was loaded with males and a few females during practice,” said Lee. “When we showed up today there were a lot more than a few females.”
“They’re on bed and trying to bed,” said Lee. “They’ll follow a spinnerbait up and then you can throw a worm or something back to the same spot and catch them.”
“I threw a spinnerbait out into a bunch of lilypads and saw a wake come out through the pads,” said Seals. “We threw back in there several times, casting around where we thought she was bedding. Nothing. We came back an hour later and on about the fourth cast our big fish bit.”
There are two other boats in the same area as Lee and Seals. The whole backwater is about the size of three football fields, but all of Auburn’s fish came from two 30-by-30-yard areas.
“Jake Gipson respected us a lot in there today,” said Lee. “He’s in there with us in the same general area but never got on top of us.”
In addition to the comeradery, the composition of the backwater helped Auburn catch their weight.
“That’s the only backwater that we’ve found with stumps in it,” said Seals. “A lot of the backwaters we fished didn’t have a hard bottom but this one does. If everything goes perfect, it has the potential for 30 pounds. We left a little early today so that we wouldn’t beat it up too bad.”
Kevin Lucas and Neal Combs of the University of Central Florida sit in the all-important 13th spot with 12-4 after Day One. This is the cutline for anglers looking to advance to the Carhartt College Series National Championship, which will be held later this summer.
Day Two will begin with teams launching from Wooton Park at 7:20 AM EST. The Day Two weigh-in will also be held at Wooton Park starting at 3:20 PM EST. For more information concerning the event, please click here.