GREENWOOD, S.C. — A season ago, Jackson Swisher from Florida Gateway College fell just short of qualifying for the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic with a sixth-place finish at the Bassmaster Southern Open at Douglas Lake.
But with a stellar Day 1 performance at the Bassmaster College Classic Bracket at Lake Greenwood presented by Lew’s, he is now in range of redemption.
Swisher, who entered Saturday as the No. 5 seed, secured the victory in his head-to-head matchup with No. 4 seed Connor Cartmell from Coastal Carolina University by catching a mixed bag of largemouth and spotted bass weighing 11 pounds, 12 ounces, the heaviest of any competitor for the day. He anchored his bag with a 4-2 largemouth that was also big bass of the day.
“As I fished the Opens, I wanted to win one to make the Classic,” he said. “I look at this the same way. I am only fishing to win. Second place doesn’t do you any good. That is the mindset I came in with. I am going to swing for the fences tomorrow.”
Swisher advances to the semifinals and will face the No. 1 seed Louis Monetti from UNC Charlotte. Monetti caught 10-4 Saturday to defeat No. 8 seed Trey Schroeder from McKendree University, who landed 8-12.
Swisher’s partner No. 6 seed Seth Slanker from Florida Gateway College caught the second-heaviest bag, 10-13, and advanced over No. 3 seed Andrew Vereen from Coastal Carolina University, who caught 7-9 and fell just shy of a limit. Slanker will face No. 7 seed Tyler Christy from McKendree University in the semifinals. Christy caught 7-10 to earn a win over No. 2 seed Michael Fugaro from UNC Charlotte, who finished with 2-5.
One of the four anglers remaining will clinch a spot in the 2023 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic, which is scheduled for March 24-26 in Knoxville, Tenn.
Although it did cancel the seeding day for anglers on Friday, Hurricane Ian left behind relatively calm and stable conditions on Lake Greenwood on Saturday, although Swisher mentioned it muddied some areas he wanted to try.
A former member of the Bassmaster High School All-American Fishing Team presented by Academy Sports + Outdoors with five Opens under his belt, Swisher has felt the pressure of fishing as an individual as well as the nerves that being in contention brings. He has learned from some of the mistakes he made at Douglas, which has helped him navigate the emotions this tournament brings so far.
“Fishing the Opens, you can’t let the pressure get to you, and you block it out and just go,” Swisher said. “After leading the Open (at Douglas Lake), having all that pressure on me and not blocking it out, I used that as a learning experience. I don’t want to make the same mistake again.”
While he is from Florida, Swisher has fished Lake Hartwell several times in his young career and used his experience there to break down Lake Greenwood, which features a hefty population of spotted and largemouth bass.
“I figured this place would fish a lot like Hartwell,” Swisher said. “There are a lot of 2-pound fish here. I had a really good practice. I caught more fish in practice than I did today just bouncing around. I got a lot more topwater bites in practice.”
A topwater walking bait produced the first three keepers of the day for Swisher, but with several more blowing up and missing the bait entirely, he decided to make a move. Skipping a ChatterBait under a dock produced the big largemouth of the day.
“I had three or four really good ones just blow my topwater out of the water and never commit,” he said. “The day changer was fish number four. That is what got me to the next day. As soon as I caught that fish, it took a bunch of pressure off of me. I fished freely the rest of the day. I knew he would have to catch them to beat me.”
Swisher had three spotted bass and two largemouth in his final total, but he landed six largemouth throughout the course of the day, an encouraging sign moving forward.
“I still think I have to have around 12 pounds tomorrow to advance,” he said. “I’m just going to fish for the win. I am going to fish for five bites as opposed to going around today and culling by ounces. I want to cull by pounds tomorrow. As soon as I catch a limit I am going to go headhunting.”
Slanker, meanwhile, also used his and his partner’s experience on Hartwell to evaluate Greenwood. Trolling motor issues messed up his practice, but on tournament morning he was able to find early success.
“This morning I caught four or five on a Spook and they were all smaller. Not the ones I was looking for,” Slanker said. “I never got a 2-pound bite in that area. I went from there and started looking for a bigger bite. I picked up a jig and started skipping docks.
“The fish were few and far between, but I caught a 3-5 in the middle of the day and that helped me quite a bit.”
A lot of the bass Slanker has found are chasing bait, but he found some of the areas he practiced in are more stained now due to the hurricane.
“It hurt a few of my areas. I am throwing a ChatterBait around the docks, and I don’t think they can see the ChatterBait as well now. I am trying to fish fluently and cast where I think the fish will be so it lands on top of them.”
He hopes he will be able to capitalize on a couple more big bites Sunday and reach the 12-pound mark.
The final four anglers will launch from Greenwood State Park at 7 a.m. ET and will have until 3 p.m. to catch their five biggest bass. This is a catch, weigh, release event, so all weights will be official on BassTrakk throughout the day.
Live coverage on FS1 will begin at 8 a.m. and run through 10:30 a.m. before switching to Bassmaster.com.
The tournament is being hosted by Discover Greenwood, S.C.
(1) Louis Monetti, UNC Charlotte vs. (5) Jackson Swisher, Florida Gateway College
(6) Seth Slanker, Florida Gateway College vs. (7) Tyler Christy, McKendree University