YOUNG HARRIS, Ga. — Brad Rutherford almost missed out on the bass fishing competition of his life: the Aug. 1-3 Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship hosted by his school, Young Harris College in Young Harris, Ga.
Ditto for Matthew Peeler. Best friends and college roommates, Rutherford and Peeler have been a team for about a year in the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series. But when they competed last January in the Southern Regional Conference event in Florida, they fell short of qualifying for the Championship by less than a pound.
At the time, they didn’t know that the 2013 Championship would be on Chatuge Reservoir — a lake they know very, very well — or that their college would host the event. B.A.S.S., owner of the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series, made the site announcement Feb. 28.
“That day was as high as you can get and as low as you can get at the same time,” Peeler said. “We were hosting the Championship, it was on Chatuge, but we weren’t fishing in it — yet.”
Peeler’s “yet” stemmed from knowing he and Rutherford were entered in the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Wild Card event in June, which gave College Series anglers a second shot at qualifying. Rutherford and Peeler invested about 16 days of practice time on the Wild Card fishery, Alabama’s Pickwick Lake.
“We threw everything else on our fishing schedule out the window,” Peeler said. “We never considered not getting to Chatuge an option.”
“I had to get to Chatuge, so I was willing to do what we had to do,” said Rutherford.
And they nailed it. They were the fourth of 13 Wild Card teams to join the other 55 teams that had qualified through the five Regional Conference events across the county.
And now they’re one of 68 teams that will compete for three days next week for the ultimate collegiate title and trophy of bass fishing. The Top 5 will be awarded $17,500 in cash and prizes, including a $2,500 cash award from Carhartt to the winning school’s fishing team.
Also at stake is a chance at a Bassmaster Classic berth. The eight anglers from the Top 4 Championship teams will qualify for the Carhartt College Bassmaster Series Classic Bracket, which will be held in September. One of those eight anglers will win an entry in the 2014 world championship of bass fishing on Lake Guntersville in Alabama. The collegiate showdown will be in conjunction with the Sept. 27-29 Toyota All-Star Week, a Bassmaster Elite Series event in Muskegon, Mich.