One last chance remains for college anglers pining for their shot at the 2014 Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship. The Carhartt College Wild Card tournament June 27-28 will once again be held on Pickwick Lake out of Florence, Ala., an impoundment on the Tennessee River that is capable of producing some giant catches of bass during the hot summer months.
A total of 67 teams have already qualified for the national championship over the course of the regular 2014 season, and more than 130 teams already are registered for the last-chance tournament on Pickwick. To be eligible to fish the Wild Card, anglers had to fish their regional qualifying tournament or have a medical or school excuse that prevented them from fishing their qualifier.
Anglers who have already qualified are allowed to fish the Wild Card, and several teams are taking advantage of this opportunity to fish a major tournament on one of the best lakes in the country. Justin Atkins, an angler who frequents Pickwick, and Joseph Marty make up one such team from Mississippi State University.
Atkins said the college anglers will be visiting Pickwick several weeks past prime time, when 6- to 10-pound bass can be pinpointed on ledges and other structure, but he predicted that the winning time will still need daily five-bass limits of 20 pounds each to win.
“The big ones have been beat up on for a month now,” Atkins said. “The 3-pounders have only been out there for a couple weeks, and they’re a lot easier to catch. I think 38 to 42 pounds will win it (for the two-day tournament).”
Current is always key on the Tennessee River in the summer months. Decent rainfalls and the impending July 4th holiday week should have the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) generating a lot of power during the week, thus sending an ample amount of current downstream.
“Your bigger sacks will come on Friday.” Atkins said. “There won’t be as much local traffic, and (dam operators are) always pulling current during the week. The chance of the TVA pulling water on Saturday morning is slim to none. They may pull a little after noon Saturday, if there’s a lot of rain.
“Those fish are still out there, and you can catch them with current or without current.” Flowing water on Pickwick causes bass to congregate in schools of active feeders, “so you can catch 20 pounds in five casts instead of 20 pounds in a hundred casts.”
One team without any experience on the Tennessee River but a lot riding on this week is that of Nick Barr and Jarred Walker from Eastern Washington University. “I have never been there,” Barr said. “I have always wanted to fish a Tennessee River lake, but never had the opportunity. So, maybe, this will be a blessing in disguise.”
Unlike Atkins and Marty, Barr and Walker are not yet qualified for the national championship. They narrowly missed a qualification at the Clear Lake Western Regional. With a stellar performance in the 2013 Carhartt College Series National Championship — the pair led the field after the first round — Barr and Walker are doing everything they can to get back to Chatuge Reservoir, the site of both the 2013 and upcoming 2014 national championship.
One thing is certain: This will be an exciting and action-packed event with a lot on the line for the competing anglers. Contestants will take off from McFarland Park at 5:30 a.m. CT Friday and Saturday. Weigh-ins will be held Friday and Saturday beginning at 2:30 p.m. CT at the University of North Alabama. GPS help: 1 Harrison Plaza, Florence, Ala., 35632. For more information on the event, please visit Bassmaster.com/college.