LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Jeremy Reese makes a custom lure that he calls, half-jokingly, "the moneymaker."
Trent Gephardt, Reese's University of Arkansas-Little Rock fishing club teammate in the Under Armour College Bass National Championship this week, had another description for it, after the pair rode it to a tournament-best 21.07-pound sack to claim the national title.
"He has a magic jig that works on everything around here," Gephardt said.
On the final day, the Trojans rode it to the title, storming past the 17.40-pound stringer caught by Texas A&M's Andrew Shafer and Scott Edmonds.
Of the 54 teams who qualified for the championships, only the five with the highest combined weights on two days on the 8,900-acre Lake Maumelle advanced to fish Day Three on what was billed as a "mystery lake."
It turned out to be a couple of stocked ponds east of Little Rock that presented about 25 acres of water and a variety of options: hydrilla, underwater structure, trees.
For all the talk of a hometown advantage in the championship, UALR's Reese and Gephardt hadn't seen any more of the fishing there than any of the other competitors. Their natural-colored half-ounce jig — built for the Arkansas River and deployed on several area lakes — might have been the closest they came to local knowledge.
They had finishing fifth after two days, and resolved to simply fish for grins on the final day — especially after being told Thursday on stage, erroneously, that a fish-care penalty would prevent them from advancing.
"That was the biggest of highs, followed by the lowest of lows, followed by the biggest of highs again," Gephardt said.
Even with last pick of holes in a five-hole format, the Trojans managed to whack a 4-pounder and a 5-pounder before 7:30 a.m. They were in great shape. Then the bite dried up, and they didn't catch another keeper for hours.
After Gephardt missed a couple of fish midday, Reese said, the pair of fisheries biology majors backed off and told themselves, "let's keep it simple." By the time the next shotgun blast signaled time to rotate fishing holes, Reese was putting a 3-pounder in the livewell.
He soon caught another keeper after the fish got hung up in some trees. "Nine times out of 10, that goes the other way," Reese said.
The runner-up Aggies missed a couple of fish that might have put a scare into the Trojans, but they also had to make a major move to finish as well as they did.
By the last hole, they were targeting trees that they realized had been pounded all day long. Instead, they backed off to an underwater "hump" that dropped from about 6 feet deep down to 9 with baitfish suspended around it.
Nearby, Edmonds found a stump that he dragged a jig across until a 5-pounder — the biggest caught on the day — busted on it. Between that and a second fish caught just after, the Aggies upgraded 6 pounds in the final 20 minutes.
Weights were zeroed for Day Three, yet it was curious to note that the five teams who fished the final day finished in the reverse order of where they qualified.
Faulkner State University's Kyle Tindol and Michael Eubanks held onto third, with 17.22 pounds; the University of Alabama's Foster Bradley and Jeff Aul managed fourth, with 14.50 pounds; and after dominating on the first two tournament days, Richard Peek and Adam Murphee of Auburn University slid to fifth place with only three fish that weighed 9.33 pounds.
"We never made the adjustments we had to make," Murphee said from the weigh-in stage. "We were fishing 30-feet deep in 9 feet of water."
After the weigh-in, Gephardt was beaming at their having beaten a field full of bigger schools for the championship (which is organized by Career Sports & Entertainment, the same agency that manages this Web site).
"It's amazing to come into (the finals of) an event like this and beat three other major Division I schools," he said. "And we beat the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville. I've always been a Hog fan, but I was glad to beat them at this."