LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Every local Arkansas River bass angler was both surprised and impressed when Oklahoma State's Zack Birge and Blake Flurry weighed 17 pounds, 4 ounces on the first day of the Carhartt College Series National Championship.
Even though the competion moved to Lake Maumelle then Hurricane Lake, the OSU duo finished Friday what they started Wednesday, withstanding a Day Three rally from Auburn to take the title.
"I think this will sink in tonight when I lay down in bed with this trophy next to me," said Flurry.
Flurry and Birge were nervous after leaving Hurricane Lake an hour early Friday because of fish-care concerns. They didn't want to risk the dead-fish penalties assessed in B.A.S.S. events, and they were banking on their Day Two four-pound lead holding up.
"I didn’t think we had 14 pounds," Birge said, "but we got lucky and had plenty."
OSU caught a five-bass limit weighing 16-5 Friday, for a three-day total of 37-13. Auburn made it close with 18-7, the biggest bag of the tournament, to finish second with 35-1.
For Auburn's Jordan Lee, Friday was a bad case of déjà vu. He was on the Tigers' team that finished second to Stephen F. Austin in last year's championship. This year, his brother Matt was his partner.
"Second, again," Lee said. "I'm used to it by now.
"I haven't won a big tournament in college, but I've made the top five almost every time. A win has eluded me. The good thing this time is we've got two more days to fish."
Lee was referring to the new format that will determine the College B.A.S.S. entry for the 2013 Bassmaster Classic. A year ago, Stephen F. Austin teammates Andrew Upshaw and Ryan Watkins competed against each other to determine the qualifier, which Upshaw narrowly won.
This year, the tournament moves to Conway's Beaverfork Lake, where morning and afternoon sessions Saturday between individuals on the top four teams Friday will determine the finalists, who will go head-to-head for the Classic berth Sunday.
In addition to OSU and Auburn, the competitors Saturday will include Murray State's Justin Graben and Vincent Campisano, who finished third with 32-4, and Alabama's Dustin Connell and Logan Johnson, who finished fourth with 31-14.
Arkansas' Mook Miller and Kyle Billingsley had the third-best bag of the Final 5 on Friday with 16-0, but it wasn't enough to lift them out of fifth place, where they started the day.
Oklahoma State's secret to success in daily 100-degree, central Arkansas temperatures, first on the Arkansas River, then on Lake Maumelle and finally on Hurricane Lake, was a topwater bite.
Essentially, Birge and Flurry clinched the tournament in the first hours of Day One when they capitalized on using a River2Sea green-back, white-belly topwater frog.
"We were straight across from Willow Beach," Flurry said. "We were on the backside of those islands. We were throwing that frog in the grass. We had a stretch of probably 50 yards long that we caught all 17 pounds on.
"Ten yards to the east, or 10 yards to the west of that grass, you weren't going to catch anything.
"It was still a grind, but if we hadn't caught that 17 pounds on the first day, we wouldn't be here right now, saying we're the national champions."
Again, 17 pounds from the Arkansas River in late July when there's virtually no current flowing and the water is as clear as it gets – that was eye-catching to anyone who has ever bass fished here.
Birge and Flurry admittedly coasted on Day Two at Maumelle, finishing with four bass weighing 4-4, but still had a four-pound lead going into the final day over second-place Alabama's and third-place Murray State's two-day totals.
Hurricane Lake, a private 326-acre lake near Benton, gave every team a chance going into the final. It holds some double-digit largemouth bass, according to local property owners.
Once again, OSU relied on a topwater bite. Birge and Flurry used bone-color Zara Super Spooks to catch most of their 16-5 Friday.
"We rigged a feather on the bait, and they seemed to hit that a lot better," said Flurry, of a Gamakatsu feathered-treble they put on the back of the Spooks. "They would short-strike it without the feather."
Birge and Flurry will be entering their senior years in Stillwater this fall. They will concern themselves later with school and the more immediate task of possibly competing against each other tomorrow. Friday evening was time to enjoy winning the Carhartt College Series National Championship.
"We're the first team in Oklahoma to win a national (collegiate bass fishing) championship," said Birge. "It feels great."
The weigh-ins for this weekend move to Beaverfork Lake, 80 Kinley Drive, Conway. The quarterfinal weigh-in begins at 11:45 a.m. The semifinal weigh-in begins at 6:15 p.m.
The Sunday finals will also be held at Beaverfork Lake. The competition between the two finalists will be held from 6:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m.
The College B.A.S.S. berth in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic will be determined at the final weigh-in, which begins at 12:45 p.m. Sunday.