College: Hehr and Johnston secure Sam Rayburn victory

With a two-day total of 42 pounds, 7 ounces, Ashton Hehr and Trevor Johnston of Texas A&M University take the win at the Strike King Bassmaster College Series at Sam Rayburn presented by Bass Pro Shops.

JASPER, Texas — Ashton Hehr and Trevor Johnston went where no one else went and did what no one else did.

Such intrepid ambition delivered big results for the Texas A&M University anglers, who tallied a two-day total of 42 pounds, 7 ounces and won the Strike King Bassmaster College Series at Sam Rayburn Reservoir presented by Bass Pro Shops.

On Day 1, Hehr and Johnston placed second with 19-14. Adding a final-round limit of 22-9 — the event’s heaviest bag — the winners edged Cade Lipham and Caleb Coleman of Drury University by 2-1. Hehr and Johnston took home the top prize of $4,930.

“If you would have told me five or six years ago that this would happen, I would not have believed it,” Hehr said. “Trevor and I have fished all our lives and we’ve seen the struggles of tournament fishing.

“This year has been incredible; we’ve also had a first place on another trail. We’re seeing our hard work pay off.”

Where they fished

Hehr and Johnston, both juniors majoring in Business Management and Ag Leadership, respectively, committed their event to Ayish Bayou on the lake’s east side. With their competitors dispersed throughout the western side, they fished shallow hard spots in strategic solitude.

“There wasn’t anyone going up there, so we knew we’d have it all to ourselves,” Hehr said.

As Johnston explained, their game plan allowed them to fish at their own pace and effectively manage their fish.

“We didn’t have to worry about anyone else fishing around us, so we milked five spots all day,” he said. “We would fish a spot, then leave for a while to let the fish reload.”

Best baits

Johnston said he and his partner used two baits to catch their fish. First was a 7/16-ounce Strike King Tour Grade Football Finesse Jig paired with a Strike King Rage Craw, both in Okeechobee Craw.

They also caught fish on a 10-inch Strike King Rage Anaconda worm. The winners Texas rigged the big worm on a 5/0 hook with a 3/8-ounce weight.

“The finesse jig was definitely the (most productive),” Johnston said. “The key was slowly milking each spot. We’d make multiple casts to where the fish were.”

Hehr said he and Johnston had their limit by 8:30 a.m. both days, but it took them until about noon to complete each day’s final weight.

“The early mornings were a struggle, but once it picked up, it was pretty steady,” Hehr said. “I think the fish were pulled way up in some of the creeks and they hadn’t pulled out onto those hard spots until later.”

Memorable moment

Hehr said their largest fish was a 7-pounder. A kicker of that size is noteworthy enough, but their big bass put on a show that turned frustration into victory.

“The highlight of the day was when I make a bad cast with the finesse jig and got hung in a tree,” Hehr said. “The jig was dangling over a tree limb and that big 7-pounder came up and ate it on top while it was dangling.

“That was the coolest blow up I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Second and third

Lipham and Coleman finished second with 40-6. After placing fifth on Day 1 with 18-12, the Drury University anglers added 21-10.

Lipham said he and Coleman fished around the 147 Bridge. They based their plan on local knowledge.

“My grandparents have a house on the lake, right around Veach Creek and, looking at the history of the lake, it looks like 80% of the tournaments get won from that Cassels-Boykin area down to (the Veach area),” Lipham said. “We focused our practice on that area and that’s where we found them.”

Lipham and Coleman targeted hydrilla in 14 feet of water. They caught their bass on Texas-rigged 10-inch Berkley Power Worms and Berkley Hit Worms.

They also caught keepers on a Carolina-rigged Senko. As Lipham recalled, the Texas rigs produced their best bites, including a Day 1 kicker that dramatically changed their fortune.

“The first day, we caught a 7 1/2 on the big worm,” Lipham said. “Without that fish yesterday we would have been middle of the pack.”

Of their stronger Day 2 performance, Lipham said: “We were able to milk that school that we had found. On Day 1, we left them biting because we didn’t want to burn them up. But today we really swung on them.”

Caleb Hudson and Tanner Hadden or University of South Carolina Union finished third with 39-7. Their daily weights were 18-3 and 21-4.

Hampton Shull of Lander University in Greenwood, S.C., won the Big Bass award with a 9-8. Shull finished 16th with 29-15.

The Jasper-Lake Sam Rayburn Area Chamber of Commerce and Jasper County hosted the event.