Daily Limit: Dream maker weekend in college

Glenn Cale, a former Major League umpire, is excited about who he gets to call out this week.

Cale, a longtime youth tournament manager in Florida, was hired by B.A.S.S. in January to run tournaments, including the Strike King Bassmaster College Series presented by Bass Pro Shops. That series culminates this week in the Bassmaster College Classic Bracket presented by Lew’s.

In ballparks, Cale has called out the likes of Alex Rodriguez, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, and he said it will be an honor to announce the next qualifier to the 2023 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic.

“I call this event a dream maker,” Cale said. “We talk about dreams all the time in bass fishing, but you’re going to get to see somebody actually realize theirs.”

After one day of practice, the four-day competition on Lake Greenwood in Greenwood, S.C., starts Friday with a seeding round. The eight college anglers — two members from the Team of the Year along with the six anglers from the top three teams at the Strike King National Championship — will fish the 11,400-acre lake to determine Saturday’s four matches, with the No. 1 seed going head-to-head against No. 8, etc.

In the catch, weigh, release format overseen by judges in the boats, the four winners advance to Sunday’s semifinal matches, and the final match on Monday will determine the 12th collegiate angler to receive a Classic berth.

The morning action on Saturday and Sunday will be broadcast on FS1 starting at 8 a.m. ET, and full coverage will be on Bassmaster.com. Tommy Sanders will host the shows with special guest Brandon Palaniuk, the Progressive Bassmaster Angler of the Year, providing commentary, and Daily Limit author Mike Suchan will interrupt when he sees fit.

Weather, in the form of Hurricane Ian’s wrath, will be of concern. Forecasts for Friday and Saturday include rain and winds. Cale and his tournament crew are monitoring conditions closely.

“Right now, it’s a go as normal,” he said. “It looks like it will be a little breezy, a little rainy, but I think we’ll get it in. If it starts to get too bad, I’ll prep the guys on it and we could cut the days short.”

Before spotted bass became more prevalent in the past five years, Lake Greenwood was among the best big-fish lakes in the state, said Elite Series pro Brandon Cobb, who lives in Greenwood. He’s landed 10-pounders there and 30-pound bags to win events, but spotted bass are now being caught at a 20-to-1 ratio, potentially due to their aggression.

“It’s still got the quality largemouth, people just fish it so much differently now because spots are so easy to catch,” said Cobb, who caught a 7-4 there last week. “Largemouth are just not targeted as much.”

Cobb said 50-fish days are possible, but a largemouth kicker or two are required to hit the fall target weight of the low teens. Fall is typically the slowest fishing on Greenwood, and heavy rains will quickly muddy the northern end to where it’s virtually unplayable, he said.

“I like upper portion in fall, but with the storm, I would stay in lower half of lake, figure out how to catch a decent limit of spots in an hour then have time to catch a kicker,” Cobb said. “Largemouth are random, so it’s junk fishing. You might find a big one on a brush pile, the bank or laydowns.”

The college matches most often provide tremendous drama, like last year’s final pitting Bethel’s Tristan McCormick against Auburn’s Tucker Smith. McCormick rallied after a slow morning to win by 3 ounces, breaking a tie between the two schools for sending the most anglers (three) to Classics.

This year’s finalists are UNC-Charlotte’s Louis Monetti and Michael Fugaro, who earned Strike King Team of the Year honors. The school is 130 miles from Greenwood and has 2018 Bassmaster Rookie of the Year Jake Whitaker as an alum. Whitaker and Andrew Helms were the Bass Rats team that won the 2014 National Championship.

Andrew Vereen and Connor Cartmell of Coastal Carolina University won the Strike King National Championship on their home waters of Winyah Bay after securing their spot through the Wild Card event. Cartmell grew up fishing Lake Murray, one lake downstream on the Saluda River from Lake Greenwood.

Jackson Swisher and Seth Slanker represent Florida Gateway College in Lake City after finishing second at Winyah Bay. Swisher and Slanker have fished together since their freshmen year in high school, and they qualified for three Bassmaster High School National Championships, winning their senior year when Swisher was named a High School All-American. The team has won Florida’s B.A.S.S. Nation College Championship twice and qualified to nationals twice.

The anglers on the final team might be the most experienced and have the most success in college. Tyler Christy and Trey Schroeder from McKendree University in Illinois, just east of St. Louis, qualified for the national championship each of their four years, posting three top 12 finishes. They reached the College Bracket in 2019, Christy losing in his first-round match and Schroeder falling to eventual winner and current Elite Cody Huff in the semifinal.

“Just the thought of another opportunity to get back there knowing how much I have grown as an angler in four years is something I have wanted since I made it the first time,” Christy said. “I know I am so much better now, and now I get one more shot to complete my dream.”

It’s the grandest dream that began in 2011, when Andrew Upshaw defeated Stephen F. Austin teammate Ryan Watkins to become the first from the college ranks to reach a Classic. Coming so close but being startled awake from that dream is tough to swallow, like Smith losing last year by 3 ounces.

“That’s the bad part about it,” Cale said. “Somebody is going to be heartbroken on Monday.”

Someone will experience the thrill of victory, and a lot more. In addition to fishing next year’s Classic, March 4-6 on the Tennessee River out of Knoxville, the bracket winner receives $7,500 paid entry into the nine 2023 St. Croix Bassmaster Opens presented by Mossy Oak Fishing with use of a fully rigged Nitro boat and Toyota Tundra.

Cale, who will serve as on-the-water judge this week, can’t wait to call lines out Monday afternoon then announce the 2022 College Bracket champ on Bassmaster LIVE.

“I’m happy to have a front-row seat to watch somebody’s dream come true,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to iconic.”