FORT MADISON, Iowa -- Ben Zuk and Ethan Dhuyvetter of Kansas State grabbed the early lead at the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Midwest Regional with the help of three "overs" -- fish that fell above the 12-to-18-inch slot.
On a day where one over outweighed entire limits, three of these 18-inch-plus fish went a long way, all the way to the top. The Kansas State duo also weighed one of the larger fish of the day. It was when that 5-pounder entered the boat that their day hit a bit of a speed bump.
“We threw that big one in there, made a few casts and then realized what we’d done. So we called you,” said Zuk on stage at the weigh-in, referencing Tournament Manager Hank Weldon.
Per the rules, Weldon docked the team 2 pounds for the extra fish in their possession, and they were then allowed to pick out their smallest fish to release. So Zuk and Dhuyvetter weighed a gross weight of 13-15 Wednesday, over 3 pounds more than their nearest competitor, Western Illinois University, which had 10-12.
The story of the day, however, was the slot. Every team that came across the stage mentioned the numerous fish they caught and released that were within the slot. Many who then weighed their five-fish limits for around 2 1/2 pounds. Having been allowed to weigh the fish excluded by the slot limit, the weights still would have been tight, but the curve would be closer to 12 pounds than 5.
At the end of the day, everyone had to fish the same water with the same restrictions. Even the leaders would have had more weight given different circumstances.
“We had two 17 3/4-inch fish that were pretty chunky,” Zuk said. “They would have looked good in the livewell.”
In total, the Kansas State anglers caught around 20 fish Wednesday and about seven of those fell in the 10- to 12-inch range, legal unders. Two of these were in their five-fish limit.
“We could catch 20 pounds tomorrow or we could blank,” Zuk said.
Another cumulative 1/2 inch Wednesday and Kansas State could have had 20 pounds. But three fewer casts and they would have had one of the 2-8 limits that we saw from a lot of the other teams. Right now, it’s all about one or two bites and a few inches on Sugema. So what got those three big bites for Kansas State?
“We weren’t having much luck this morning,” Dhuyvetter said. “We found an area that looked good, got a few 18-inch bites and that’s where we’re at.”
“We just put our heads down and went fishing,” Zuk said.
Kansas State admitted to having figured out something that elicited their quality bites, but they wouldn’t elaborate at the midpoint of competition. What they would say is that the key wasn’t so much a bait or a place as it was the way they were fishing.
Travis Wilson and Brian Lafferty of Western Illinois University finished Day One in second with 10-12.
“We probably caught 30 fish Wednesday with two over 18,” Lafferty said.
Numbers nor quality were an issue for WIU. The two anglers caught numerous fish right on the bubble, though only two fell to the right side of the 18-inch mark.
“We were on better fish, catching 16- to 17-inch fish all day long,” Lafferty said.
When you’re catching that many fish, it’s just a numbers game before a few make it to 18 inches.
The weather seemed to help WIU and that’s something they are hoping doesn’t change with an incoming front.
“I prefer for the sun to be out because it puts the fish right on the cover and that helps us,” Lafferty said.
Only a few of the anglers this week have any experience on Sugema, Lafferty and Wilson are among those, albeit in an unconventional manner.
“My partner Travis and I have been fishing together forever,” Lafferty said. “We fished this lake one time when we were 12 and 13 years old when Travis’s uncle took us. We haven’t been back since then but we had a blast then. I’m 20 and he’s 21, so it’s been a while.”
Levi Warner and Konner Kearney of the University of Wisconsin brought in the day’s Carhartt Big Bass and clenched the third-place spot headed into the second and final day.
The 10th-place cutline for the National Championship qualification sits at a mere 5-2. The win and the Championship berth lie within reach of everyone in the tournament thanks to the slot limit. No one is out of this one yet.
For live coverage of all the action out on the water be sure to follow along with our blog. Also stay tuned to Bassmaster.com for all the latest throughout the day Thursday, including on the water photo galleries, BassCams and finally the live weighin at 3:45 p.m. CT.