YOUNG HARRIS, Ga. — Chatuge Reservoir behaved exactly the way Jake Whitaker and Andrew Helms expected, which led to the University of North Carolina Charlotte team’s win at the 2014 Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship.
“It’s tough fishing out here,” said Whitaker, who grew up only 2 hours from Chatuge and has fished it multiple times.
“The way to do it is to commit to getting big bites, even if you don’t get very many,” he added.
The plan worked for the college duo. They caught 11 pounds, 12 ounces on the first day, followed it up with 12-11 on Day 2, and closed out the competition with their biggest bag, 14-2.
“I’ve never worked harder in my life,” said Whitaker, after he weighed his catch. “We should have more, but I lost two 3-pounders.”
And right here is where we would tell you how they caught their overall weight of 38-9, but that’s information they’re not yet willing to divulge. Anglers guard their secrets well when competition is still on the line, and while the championship has concluded, the 2014 Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Classic Bracket looms — on the same fishery, beginning tomorrow.
During the bracket, they will be fishing solo in a series of head-to-head elimination brackets, made up of anglers in the Top 4 teams of the championship. The competitor left standing at the end of the day on Aug. 5 earns a berth in the 2015 Bassmaster Classic.
“It’s going to affect me for sure,” said Whitaker, crediting Helms with the first fish of every competition day so far. Both anglers are planning to employ the same undisclosed pattern that they’ve used each day, but now they’ll be doing it separately.
The last three years, the Classic Bracket has resulted in teammates fishing against each other on the final day. In 2011, it was Stephen F. Austin’s Andrew Upshaw and Ryan Watkins. In 2012, it was Auburn University’s Matt and Jordan Lee (teammates and brothers). And in 2013, it was Jordan Lee again versus his teammate, Shane Powell.
If it comes down to that for Whitaker and Helms, they plan to be extremely supportive of each other.
“I’d like for him to win it as much as I’d like to win it,” said Whitaker. Helms said the same of his teammate.
The solo fishing and elimination format will make the next few days tough on them and the students from Bethel University, University of Louisiana Monroe and Tennessee Tech University, who also qualified.
“It makes you work for it,” said Whitaker. “The one who brings in a double-digit limit every day is going to be the one who wins.”
Double-digit limits on Chatuge the last several days have been hard to come by, at least more than one day in a row. On the final day of the championship, only two teams out of the five that fished caught more than 10 pounds. Several anglers reported losing key bites, and one — Brett Preuett of University of Louisiana Monroe — spent a solid 3 minutes trying to horse in what he thought was a huge bass. “But then it turned out it was a striper,” he said with a laugh, while showing off a bloody scrape on his leg that he obtained during the fight.
The anglers from all five teams that competed on the final day of the championship thanked their teammates and college clubs for backing them.
“Look out there,” said an emotional Zach Parker of Bethel University while he was on stage, gesturing toward the crowd. “They all came out here to support us. This team is awesome.”
Preuett said that his University of Louisiana Monroe team is so good because everyone supports each other. “We drive each other to do better,” he said. “We work as a team, and we really want each other to do well.”
For the new national champions at UNC Charlotte, it’s exciting to bring this type of recognition to their school’s burgeoning program.
“This is big for us,” said Helms. “We only have about 15 members. Maybe this will get more people interested and our club will grow.”
It’s no doubt that UNC Charlotte’s bass fishing team got a big boost with Helms and Whitaker’s win. For an entire year, the small club will own the title of 2014 Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship winners.
In addition to their trophy, Helms and Whitaker received $2,500 each from Carhartt to help pay their fishing expenses.
Carhartt Big Bass honors belonged to Nathan Martin and Michael Gullette of University of North Alabama and Garrett Cates and Graham Howard of Kansas State University. Both teams caught a 6-7 bass on the first day, and the big bass was never trumped. The two teams split the $500 award.
Martin and Gullette also held onto the Bass Pro Nitro Big Bag honors from Day 1 for their catch of 14-15.
Zach Parker and Matt Roberts of Bethel University earned the Livingston Lures Leader Award for leading on Day 2.
The 2014 Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Classic Bracket begins tomorrow, Aug. 3. Stay tuned to Bassmaster.com for updates.