COUNCE, Tenn. — Thanks to an afternoon rally that produced several largemouth over 3 1/2 pounds, Auburn University’s Tucker Smith and Hayden Marbut caught 18 pounds on Saturday to win the Strike King Bassmaster College Series National Championship at Pickwick Lake presented by Bass Pro Shops with a three-day total of 53 pounds, 12 ounces.
Smith and Marbut never trailed in the event, claiming the lead on Day 1 with a 20-8 bag before landing 15-4 on the second day.
Together, it is the duo’s second victory in a Bassmaster Championship event. Their first win was also in wire-to-wire fashion at the 2020 Bassmaster High School National Championship at Kentucky Lake.
After winning that tournament, Smith and Marbut had conversations about what it would be like to win the College Championship when they teamed back up at Auburn. They made that hope a reality in their first season reunited as partners.
“The last couple of years we have joked about winning both National Championships. For it to actually happen and our dreams to come true this week, it is unbelievable,” Marbut said.
This victory only adds to Smith’s already impressive resume. Along with his three High School Championship titles, he won the 2021 Bassmaster College Team of the Year title with partner Logan Parks as well as the Bass Pro Shops U.S. Open on Table Rock Lake.
The College Series Championship was an event Smith and Parks struggled with in their two attempts together, but Smith felt like this year at Pickwick would be different.
“We fished hard and, in the previous years I fished with Logan, we fished hard too but we didn’t get close,” Smith said. “This one felt different. This one felt special.”
With the victory, the Auburn anglers earned a spot in the Bassmaster College Classic Bracket presented by Lew’s. Smith finished second to Tristan McCormick at the 2021 Bracket on the Alabama River by 3 ounces and he has been anxious to get back ever since.
“The last time I was there, it really hurt my feelings,” Smith said. “It will be good to be back and get another chance at it.”
History pays off for Auburn on final day
Entering Championship Saturday, Smith and Marbut had a feeling their best two spots were drying up. After catching around 12 pounds between the two areas before midday, they made the decision to scrap their game plan and move to a ledge that has historically produced for them.
“At 12 o’clock we had 12 pounds,” Marbut said. “For it to happen in the last hour and a half, it is crazy.”
In practice, they scanned this particular spot and found only a couple of bass occupying it, but when they needed it the most, the spot was loaded and Smith and Marbut were able to quickly upgrade their final total.
“We threw the trolling motor down and there were a ton of fish there. It was magical,” Smith said. “It was a place that got hit by the current really well. It was near the main channel and once the clouds came over, it seemed like the bass grouped up really well and started feeding.”
While the current was almost too strong on Day 2, Marbut and Smith noticed it slowed down on the final day, which helped the bite as well.
A sneaky, offshore game plan
Smith and Marbut stayed offshore all week, hoping to find less-obvious places other competitors would overlook. They had two areas that produced best, one deep and one shallow. Both were relatively close to takeoff at Pickwick Landing State Park.
“We had never fished those spots until this tournament,” Smith said.
The majority of their weight the first two days came from the deeper school of bass, which was located in about 20 feet of water with shells on the bottom.
“We caught almost all of our weight on the first day and a good bit of our weight the second day off of it,” Marbut said. “It was kind of up on a flat, away from where most people would scan. I think only one other boat found it.”
Their secondary, shallow school was in about 12 feet of water.
“It was way off the river,” Marbut said. “And that’s what we looked for. We focused on looking for sneakier stuff that not everyone would find.”
To catch their fish, they used a rotation of baits which included an unnamed 5-inch swimbait, a 3/4-ounce Picasso tungsten football jig with a Yamamoto Yama Craw trailer, a 3/8-ounce drop shot with a morning dawn colored Roboworm FAT straight-tail worm and a Damiki rig.
Mullins, Cummings fish magic docks to finish second
With a three-day total of 50-13, Levi Mullins and Matthew Cummings from Bethel University finished second. It was the duo’s second straight Top 12 in the College Championship — and while they came up just a little short of the win, they earned a spot in the Classic Bracket.
“I’ve watched three of my teammates go and start their careers there. Now we are going to have that opportunity. It is crazy to think about that.” Mullins said.
“Losing the National Championship is a rough feeling, but knowing you are going to the Bracket makes that a little easier,” Cummings added.
As hard as they tried, Mullins and Cummings could not find a consistent offshore bite during practice. So, on the first day, the Bethel duo ran down to a set of magical docks they have fished in the past and milked the area for three days, catching 18-5, 14-14 and 17-10.
The final day was tough, but they filled their limit two minutes before running back to weigh in.
Brush was a key piece of cover underneath several of the docks, and bream and shad were plentiful in the area. Mullins skipped a 3/8-ounce Missile Baits Ike’s Mini Flip Out jig in Bamer craw with a Missile Baits Mini D Chunk trailer most of the week while Cummings threw a Texas-rigged Senko in green pumpkin with a 3/16-ounce weight.
On the final two days, a ChatterBait also produced important keeper bites.
“Those docks have saved our tails three times now in tournaments,” Cummings said.
One area carries Montevallo to third
With bags of 17-8, 15-4 and 16-7, Brody Robison and Jack Alexander from the University of Montevallo finished third with a total of 49-3. Robison and Alexander spent most of practice scanning offshore areas of Pickwick Lake and found one spot that produced the majority of their bag.
“It was a straight river ledge, but there was a hard spot that stuck out into the current,” Robison said. “It was a great place for shells to group up and it also made a good feeding area for white bass and bass. We hung out there and tried to get five bass and we did it somehow.”
A drop shot, Damiki rig and Strike King 10XD were their three best baits.
The Top 3 teams punched their ticket to the College Classic Bracket presented by Lew’s, details of which will be announced at a later date. Nick Dumke and Easton Fothergill from the University of Montevallo already claimed their spot by winning the Team of the Year title. Full coverage of the event will be available on Bassmaster.com.
The winner of the Bracket will compete in the 2024 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Toyota in Tulsa. Okla., and receive paid entry into the 2024 St. Croix Bassmaster Opens with the use of a fully loaded Nitro Boat and Toyota Tundra.
Tour Hardin County hosted the 2023 Strike King Bassmaster College Series National Championship presented by Bass Pro Shops.
2023 Bassmaster College Series Title Sponsor: Strike King
2023 Bassmaster College Series Presenting Sponsor: Bass Pro Shops
2023 Bassmaster College Series Platinum Sponsor: Toyota
2023 Bassmaster College Series Premier Sponsors: Dakota Lithium, Humminbird, Mercury, Minn Kota, Nitro Boats, Power-Pole, Progressive Insurance, Ranger Boats, Rapala, Skeeter Boats, Yamaha
2023 Bassmaster College Series Supporting Sponsors: AFTCO, Daiwa, Garmin, Lew’s, Marathon, Triton Boats, VMC
2023 Bassmaster College Series Youth Sponsors: 13 Fishing, Seaguar, Shimano