ANDERSON, S.C. — Tyler Campbell and Collin Smith will start Day 2 of the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Team Championship Classic Fish-Off locked in a dead-even battle for the grand prize.
Campbell of Martin, Ga., and Smith of Anderson, S.C., worked their way to the top of the leaderboard on a cold and rainy Friday on Lake Hartwell. Both anglers caught limits weighing 14 pounds, 1 ounce, which gives them a slim lead over the other four anglers who advanced to this portion of this tournament.
It’s a winner-take-all affair with the heaviest two-day total earning one angler a berth in the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic, which will be held March 24-26 on the Tennessee River in Knoxville.
Campbell, a 21-year-old who competes for the Emmanuel College bass fishing team, said versatility has been the key to his success this week. And with the different looks Mother Nature has thrown at competitors, that makes perfect sense.
“I’m mixing it up a lot, just treating it like a practice, really,” Campbell said. “Now, we’ve got some sunshine in the forecast tomorrow. If that happens, I’m going largemouth fishing. I’ve got one place I’ve been saving all week. It’s hit or miss, but if there’s one laying up there, it’ll be a big one.
“If you get that one bite — that 4- to 6-pound largemouth to start your day — that sets the tone. Whoever catches 16 pounds tomorrow is gonna win. I’m going for it.”
Right now, the edge belongs to Campbell and Smith, but their teammates are right on their heels.
Joe Mitchell, another Martin, Ga., resident who paired with Campbell earlier in the week to finish second in the Team Championship portion of the event, is in third place in the Fish-Off with a limit weighing 13-10. Anderson resident Brady Kimbrell, who teamed with Smith to win the Team Championship portion, is fourth in the Fish-Off with 12-6.
Jeremy Strong of Elberton, Ga., is in fifth place with 11-9 and Chris Nelson of Social Circle, Ga., is sixth with 8-3. That duo finished third in the team championship which was held Wednesday and Thursday on Hartwell.
Both days of the Team Championship were shortened by dense fog, including a delay of more than three hours on Thursday. Then, temperatures dipped from the low 70s into the low 50s on Friday with a steady rain awaiting the six anglers who took off from legendary Green Pond Landing and Events Center with zeroed weights for individual competition.
Smith, a 27-year-old grounds foreman for Anderson County, started Friday slowly, but the change in weather helped him.
“I could feel the pressure changing, that temperature dropping, so I went to a place I haven’t fished in the tournament,” he said. “It’s just a deep timber hole in about 50 feet of water. When I got there, they were biting. When I left it, they were still biting. There are tons of fish in there.”
Smith said he’s casting to those spotted bass rather than drop shotting into the hole.
“I’m throwing big jigs into that timber,” he said. “You’ve got to have something heavy to get them out of there. I leave the docks with three colored jigs — one with some orange, one with some blue and one with a natural green color. It just depends on the day. Sometimes they want it to fall slower and sometimes they want it burning past their heads.
“Using your electronics, you can judge that a little bit better.”
Campbell agreed, saying electronics have been essential this week, with variable weather scattering Hartwell’s bass.
“I’m on the Garmin LiveScope, looking at every fish before I caught it,” he said. “It’s a hard-bottom situation. There are transitions from sand to clay to chunk rock. It’s happening in about 9 to 10 feet of water right now. I’m pulling up onto these long, tapering points in about 30 feet and scanning all the way up the bank. You don’t know where they’re going to be. You just have to keep moving.”
Campbell said he’s had to be versatile too, with the weather being so unpredictable.
“I caught one fish on a Keitech worm today, and that’s the only fish I’ve caught on a moving bait all week,” Campbell said. “Everything has been on the bottom — drop shots, shaky heads. Mostly it’s green pumpkin.
“It’s very basic stuff, but you have got to be dialed in with your electronics.”
Campbell and Smith will have to bring the same focus — and maybe some good fortune — to hold off the four competitors chasing them for the final Classic berth. They’ve made it this far, emerging from a field of 250 teams (500 anglers) that started in the Team Championship on Wednesday.
“I didn’t sleep a wink, but I’ve got one more day to go,” Campbell said. “These are the two most important days of my life.”
The final day of the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Team Championship Classic Fish-Off will begin at 7 a.m. ET on Saturday from Green Pond Landing and Events Center. Weigh-in is set for 3 p.m. Follow the action on Bassmaster.com.
Visit Anderson is hosting the event.