LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Michaela Anderson admits feeling a little extra pressure on the eve of the 2012 Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship.
Auto racing has Danica Patrick carrying the flag for her gender; College B.A.S.S. has Anderson. She's the only female among the 110 anglers competing here (53 two-person teams and four one-person teams). The event begins Wednesday on the Arkansas River.
"I do feel it a little bit," said Anderson, prior to the anglers' meeting at the JM Associates studio Tuesday. "I want to make other women proud, and show that we can compete with the men, even if there's not as many of us out there in the sport."
Anderson shares another trait with Patrick, standing 5-foot-4 "on a good day." Patrick is 5-2. And Anderson is one of the youngest competitors here; she is two weeks away from her 19th birthday.
But she's also the captain of her University of St. Thomas (Minn.) team. Bryan Billeadeau is her partner. The Ranger boat, however, belongs to Anderson.
They were part of Monday night's gathering at the the JM offices when the anglers attended a series of short seminars that included presentations by Elite Series anglers Todd Faircloth, Kevin Short, Mark Davis, Stephen Browning, Billy McCaghren, Davy Hite and Scott Rook.
Rook, who lives in Little Rock and won the 2006 Legends event on the Arkansas River, had the most encouraging words for these collegiate anglers, who have been practicing without much success in 100-degree weather for the past few days.
"It's tough, isn't it?" said Rook, and heads nodded in agreement around the room. "I won a tournament on the Arkansas River catching 7 pounds a day."
That's all it may take, both Wednesday on the Arkansas River and Thursday at nearby Lake Maumelle, to make the Top 5 cut and advance to Friday's final. The daily limit for each team is five bass.
Anderson and Billeadeau are trying to get accustomed to fishing in central Arkansas' high water temperatures.
"We have fish kills in Minnesota when the water gets to 90 degrees," Billeadeau said. "But we caught limits the last two days, so I feel good about that."
The local favorites in this event would have to be Mook Miller and Kyle Billingsley, representing the University of Arkansas. Although there are three other Arkansas colleges represented here, including one from the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, Miller and Billingsley both graduated from Little Rock's Catholic High School before going to Fayetteville for college.
"I fished them four or five days a week in high school," said Billingsley of the Arkansas River and Lake Maumelle.
They think it will take a minimum of 19 pounds to make Friday's Top 5 cut. So a five-bass daily limit of 10 pounds should be considered a success for any team.
Miller and Billingsley also have age -- read: experience -- on their side. Both skipped their college graduation ceremony when they won the Central Super Regional at Oklahoma's Fort Gibson Lake to qualify for this event.
Wednesday's opener on the Arkansas River will be especially tough, as it is clear and there's very little current flowing. Although there won't be many, if any, big bags weighed, it will offer a true test of bass angling skill.
And that's the way it should be when a berth in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic is on the line.
The top teams will fish a local as yet unnamed "mystery lake" Friday to decide the National Championship. Competitors from the Top 4 teams will then be seeded into a bracket of individual competition to determine the Classic berth. The field will be narrowed to the Top 2 anglers Saturday. They will compete head-to-head Sunday for the Classic spot.
The 110 college anglers gathered Tuesday evening also learned of an added bonus to this event. Tim Humes, the brand marketing manager for tournament sponsor Carhartt, announced an additional $5,000 will be donated to the National Championship team. The money will be awarded to the school's bass club, to further advance its future in the sport.
Daily launches will begin at 6:10 a.m. CT. Tournaments weigh-ins begin at 3:30 p.m. at Little Rock Tractor Supply Co., 10801 Colonel Glenn Road. The public is invited to attend the free daily expo, which begins at 2:30 each day.