GEORGETOWN, S.C. — When Andrew Vereen and Connor Cartmell walked on stage on Day 2 of the Strike King Bassmaster College Series National Championship presented by Bass Pro Shops, they were met with a cheering section so loud it echoed throughout Front Street in downtown Georgetown.
Vereen and Cartmell rewarded their family, friends and supporters with a 15-pound, 1-ounce bag of largemouth that lifted the Coastal Carolina University duo to the lead with a two-day total of 29-7. Entering the day in second with 14-6, Vereen and Cartmell now hold a 1-6 advantage over Jackson Swisher and Seth Slanker from Florida Gateway College.
“It feels good to have a crowd that knows who we are and is rooting for us,” Vereen said.
Vereen grew up just up the road from Georgetown in Murrells Inlet and has fished the Winyah Bay system his entire life. But he recognized that home-field advantage only does so much when so many quality anglers are in town.
“The local advantage is there for knowing the area better than others,” Vereen said. “As far as fishing goes, you have to put your head down and fish. Any of these boys can catch them. They are all good fishermen. But we do have an advantage in the fact I know how to get around.”
That navigation advantage has played a huge role so far, as they are getting back into tight areas on low tide in the Santee River. They were faced with the same tide situation as Day 1, which makes for an interesting run in the morning.
“We pretty much had the same tide we had yesterday but today it fell out a little lower,” Vereen said. “We have a sketchy run getting to where we are going. I’m a little nervous. If we get up there we are good, but if we take a lower unit off we will be (in trouble).”
While they had their limit by 11:30 a.m. Friday, it was the total opposite on Day 2. They got their biggest bite of the day early in the morning, but that fish never made it in the boat. After that, they adjusted to the conditions and recovered from their early-morning stumble.
“First thing this morning was a struggle. We lost one that was over 6 pounds, maybe 7,” Cartmell said. “We put one in the boat that was 12 inches and we started catching more fish and went from there after 11:30. We filled out a limit around 1 p.m. It was the complete opposite of yesterday because we didn’t catch one after 11 yesterday.”
One bait did the job on the first day in one stretch of the river, but Saturday the CCU duo threw a rotation of baits that included a shaky head and a big topwater bait. Clouds and a little bit of rain moved through the area as well, which Cartmell believes helped the cause.
“Yesterday it was one stretch. Today we caught two or three fish off of it and on the way back we junk fished,” Cartmell added. “We fished what looked good and laydowns that were off the bank 40 or 50 yards. You can barely see them sticking out of the water or submerged in the water.
“We Power-Pole down or Spot-Lock down and throw over it and work that sucker as slow as we can. Let it sit and that’s when they eat it.”
Winning on his home waters would mean the world to Vereen, but he said they will need their area to reload a little bit.
“It would mean the world. All I want is that trophy,” he said. “I am nervous for tomorrow. We are kind of running out of fish. We are going to have to grind to get five of the right fish. All we can do is go fishing.”
Swisher and Slanker have used their history on the St. Johns River in Florida this week, catching 11-15 on Day 1 and 16-2 Saturday to climb into second place with a two-day total of 28-1.
“We know how to run the tide,” Swisher said. “I haven’t seen it act how it has acted the last couple days. I don’t know if it is because of the wind or what it is, but we haven’t had a slack tide. It is falling and then all of sudden it will rise. Back home, there is a solid 45 minutes of dead time.”
After a quick start to the morning, Swisher and Slanker suffered a lull before getting back on track.
“We had a 3-pounder as our first fish and then a 2 1/2 and then we went through a slow spell where we only caught some shorts,” Swisher said. “About 10 a.m., we started wearing them out and then in the last 20 minutes I caught a 4 1/2-pounder and that put us where we needed to be.”
The Florida anglers have found several areas of river that are largely untouched by the competition, areas they say most anglers wouldn’t take their boats. Having unpressured fish has been a huge part of their success this week.
Slanker said they ran the same program as they did Friday. But before the big bass today, they hadn’t had a true big bite this week. A buzzbait and a Senko have been their two key baits this week and he is hoping Sunday they will get another big bite that will lift them to victory.
Brooks Anderson and Parker Guy of Emmanuel College are in third with a two-day total 25-5, thanks mostly to their 16-6 Day 2 performance. After attempting their first-day pattern to start the morning, the duo received one key bite mid-morning that keyed them in.
“It really turned our day around,” Anderson said. “It clued us into what we needed to do. From there we put three really good fish in the boat. We had a couple more opportunities but we are hopeful for tomorrow.”
Solomon Glenn and Ryan Thomas from the University of Montevallo claimed the Big Bass of the Tournament with a 7-3 largemouth that anchored the Big Bag of the Tournament at 16-14.
The Top 12 anglers will return to Winyah Bay Sunday to compete for the National Championship title as well as a spot in the College Classic Bracket. Takeoff will begin at 6:30 a.m. ET from Carroll A. Campbell Marine Complex and weigh-in will begin around 2:30 p.m. in downtown Georgetown. Weigh-in coverage will be carried on Bassmaster.com.
The Top 3 teams will join the Bassmaster College Team of the Year to qualify for the Bracket and a chance to compete in the 2023 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic in Knoxville.
Georgetown County, S.C. is hosting the event.