SHELBY COUNTY, Ala. — After enduring a slow start, patience rewarded William Hammond and Cabe Mackey of Catawba Valley Community College with a Day 1 limit of 16 pounds, 14 ounces that leads the Strike King Bassmaster College Series Wild Card at Lay Lake presented by Bass Pro Shops.
Anchoring their bag with a 6-5 kicker, Hammond and Mackey head into Championship Saturday with a 1-pound lead over Giancarlo Russo of Florida Gateway College.
“It was just keeping our heads down and culling up by ounces,” said Mackey, who caught his team’s kicker. “The big fish bit around 11 or so. We just got lucky and made the right flip.
“When that big fish bit, we tried to get her in the boat as quickly as we could. We just tried to not do anything stupid.”
Fishing the mid- to lower-lake regions, the leaders focused on timber in 6 to 15 feet of water. Some of the cover was partially out of the water, some was submerged.
Hammond and Mackey caught their bass on a mix of jigs and Texas-rigged plastics. The latter earned their biggest bite.
“We had a couple different (soft plastics) and some were specifically for targeting big fish,” Mackey said.
Mackey said he and Hammond hit 30 to 40 spots. All set up about the same, but the anglers employed strategic planning.
“We were on a rotation of some spots that we thought might reload and there were some that we thought would hold fish at different times of the day,” Mackey said. “Midday was best for us, from about 10:30-11:30.
“We had a limit by about 10:15 and we made our last cull at 12:30. It was just cycling through different baits to show the fish different looks.”
Recounting a day of typically tough summer fishing in which slow, soaking presentations proved most effective, Mackey said he and Hammond feel confident with their Day 2 game plan.
“I think we’ll just put our heads down and fish the way we like to fish,” he said. “We won’t get spun out with what’s going on around us. We’ll just play our ballgame.”
Fishing solo, Russo adjusted to his team partner’s absence by taking a persistent approach that delivered a limit of 15-14. Starting in a midlake creek, he began by fishing shallow cover.
“I slowed down, worked the conditions and picked apart my area,” Russo said.
Essential to his productivity, Russo had to adjust his presentations throughout the day.
“There were hungry fish in there, but I had to make them react to my bait,” he said. “I had to change my presentations from how I was fishing it in the morning to get bit later in the day.”
Russo said he caught the majority of his bass, including his largest, in one creek. Exhausting his options, he struck out with a bold plan.
“I ran out of areas to fish and said, ‘I’m going to find a new area,’” Russo said. “I found a new spot just around the bend of the river — 10 minutes on the dot from my starting spot.
“In this new spot, I found a brushpile and made one cull on a reaction bait. Tomorrow, I’ll start there and once I run out of fish, I’ll go looking for new water again.”
Kayden Tanner and Trevor Easter of Tarleton State University are in third place with 15-8. Theirs was an active day that required multiple moves to assemble their weight.
“We hit 30 spots and we made a lot of culls today,” Easter said. “We had our limit by about 10 and we made our last cull at 2:20.”
Despite their success, Easter said their day presented early challenges.
“We started off pretty slow; there wasn’t any current in the morning and our fish were (not active),” he said. “Also, we had a 20-minute setback when the spring on our Hot Foot (throttle control) came off. That happened after we reached our first spot and we got it fixed on the water.”
Easter said he and Tanner caught fish shallow and deep. Knowing that the bass are in the process of making their summer offshore move, the anglers employed a mix of flipping and dragging techniques.
“I think our understanding of Garmin LiveScope made a big difference for us today,” Easter said. “We were able to tell how big the fish were, how many there were and if they were set up right.
“We’re going to go do the same thing tomorrow.”
Hammond and Mackey are in the lead for Big Bass honors with their 6-5.
Saturday’s takeoff is scheduled for 5:30 a.m. CT at Beeswax Creek Park. The weigh-in will be held at the park at 1:30 p.m. Full coverage will be available on Bassmaster.com.
The tournament is being hosted by Discover Shelby.