EVANS, Ga. — Anglers from 16 schools forming 39 teams launch Saturday morning for the first ever College Bass East Super Regional on an unrecognizable Clarks Hill Lake.
"Chocolate milk has been the phrase of the week," Georgia Southern University's Kyle Giella said. "I've never seen the lake this muddy — ever."
Heavy rains in the Savannah River region, which includes Lake Hartwell and Lake Russell, prompted the Army Corps to open the gates on the dams, flooding Clarks Hill where the dam remained closed.
The resulting six foot rise in water levels shocked the anglers as much as the resident bass population and made safe navigation even more important.
North Carolina State University angler Will White had a close call with one of Clarks Hill's usually dry islands.
"I was in the middle of the lake without my GPS on," said White. "I had just turned it on, when I realized I was coming up on one of those humps, but by that time, the boat was in six feet of water and it was too late."
Even a quick trimming of his motor didn't stop his lower unit from running across the top of the hump, but fortunately it was mud covered and not one of the rocky ones.
White has had a rough week, also running out of gas twice, which he attributed to his faulty gas gauge that reads empty whenever the tank is half-full or less.
"From that point on I pretty much wing it," he said.
At least White was kind enough to guide his partner, Andrew Livingston, to the biggest bass reported in practice, an 8-pound Clarks Hill giant that bit on a spot and lure that White picked out.
Big fish was also the talk of the Virginia Tech team, but it wasn't big bass that occupied their pre-tournament meeting chatter. For Brett Thompson and Charlie Machek, it was a possible state record carp that was most memorable pre-fishing moment.
"I was fishing a shad rap as we were going back into a cove," Thompson said. "It hit once, but missed it. When it hit again, it was running like a freight train and probably stripped off 100 yards. I was only using 10-pound test Gamma fluorocarbon line, so it ended up taking well over 20 minutes to land, plus it was hooked in the tail."
The hardest part of the whole fight came when they tried to get the fish into the boat and realized they hadn't brought a net.
"This is practice, we don't need a net," Machek said. "It took Brett 20 minutes until we even saw it, then we saw a huge tail pass by. I rolled my sleeves up and just scooped it up in a bear hug while Brett got the gills and we both hauled it into the boat."
The two anglers estimated the fish to weigh 50 pounds, which would shatter the current Georgia state carp record of 35 pounds, 12 ounces.
The story took a fishy turn when it turned out that not only could the anglers not identify the species of carp it was, but they also couldn't produce a photo of the prized catch. According to Thompson, the photo was on his camera, the batteries had run out and he didn't have any way to charge it.
With or without pictures, the Virginia Tech anglers had plenty of material for good storytelling while gathered in one of the aisles of the Academy Sports + Outdoors, where the pre-tournament meeting was being held.
All 39 teams will be looking to get off to a good start Saturday, on the first of two days of competition. Weigh-ins will be held at the Academy Sports + Outdoors in Evans, Ga., starting at 3:00 p.m. ET.