CORNELIUS, N.C. — Avery Hammock and Garrett Smith felt a gamut of emotions this week in winning the Strike King Bassmaster College Series at Lake Norman presented by Bass Pro Shops.
They were hopeful because they came here with no guarantee of even competing in the derby. Then they were grateful when they made it from the waitlist into the tournament. They were excited when they jumped into fourth place on Day 1, and they were nervous when their Day 2 weight dropped.
In the end, however, the duo from Erskine College was ecstatic. Hammock and Smith weighed an even 31 pounds in the two-day event and won a cash prize of $2,601 to split evenly. Their victory also earned them a berth in the Bassmaster College Series National Championship to be held later this year.
The sophomores from Erskine College, which is located in Due West, S.C., caught a five-bass limit of 17-15 Friday but were a full 4 1/2 pounds behind Day 1 leaders Luke Glasgow and James Ikerd of Mississippi State. The leaders caught only three keepers on Day 2, however, while Hammock and Smith weighed another limit, this one for a steady 13-1.
That was just enough to hold off the competition. Joshua DeKoning and Dalton Mollenkopf of Adrian College in Michigan finished second with 10 bass for 30-9 and Glasgow and Ikerd placed third with eight bass for 30-7.
It was a thrilling win for the Erskine anglers — Hammock, 20, from Flowery Branch, Ga., and Smith, three days shy of his 20th birthday. He hails from Mt. Holly, N.C., only 15 minutes from the site of this week’s tournament.
“I had a test on Thursday and couldn’t get here before then,” Hammock said. “But (Smith) was here to register if we could.”
“They were packing up the sponsor tables when I walked in,” Smith said. “(Erskine) had the last three teams to get into the tournament.”
Strong start: Hammock and Smith were the second-to-last boat to take off on Day 1, but they made the most of their time Friday on this 32,000-acre reservoir of the Catawba River. Most of the big bites came using 5-inch Senko wacky rigs (green pumpkin) and a Megabass Magdraft (white) swimbait. After boating a 6-pounder cruising that morning, they punctuated their bag with a late 5-pounder.
All five of their Day 1 bass were largemouth. They fished in the backs of canals and inside pockets to shield themselves from steady winds.
“We had to be really slow and methodical,” Smith said.
Finished business: The duo had some ground to make up on Saturday and they did so early.
“We had a limit a lot quicker this morning, but we struggled to find the size,” Hammock said. “We just kept running our pockets with that wacky rig. I was in the back of the boat living or dying with a swimbait. A 4-pounder or so was our biggest today. We had our eye on a 6- or 7-pounder today, but we never could get her to eat.”
Hammock and Smith weighed three spotted bass and two largemouth Saturday, and doubted their chances of climbing into the pole position.
Feel the heat: Glasgow and Ikerd seemed likeliest to topple Hammock and Smith from the hot seats after catching 22-7 on Day 1, including a tournament-best 7-5 largemouth. But the Bulldogs team added only 8 pounds to their total and finished third.
Then and only then, could Hammock and Smith breathe a sigh of relief.
“That 22-pound bag they caught yesterday is insane,” Smith said. “I don’t know if a bag like that has been caught here in the last four or five years. That says a lot about how good the anglers in the tournament are.”
Second place: DeKoning and Mollenkopf caught 17-1 Friday, good enough for sixth place. They jumped to a podium finish with a 13-8-limit Saturday.
“We were throwing around a 5-inch (Megabass) Spark Shad, but they wouldn’t start eating it until about 2 o’clock,” DeKoning said. “Once the sun got on the docks on Day 1, we were getting bites. Today, it was more between docks.”
“They were more scattered today, but the sun was key,” Mollenkopf said. “We were putting shad-colored baits in their face. They couldn’t resist that.”
Third place: Glasgow and Ikerd were disappointed they only managed three bass on Day 2 but pleased to collect a check and grab a spot in the national tournament later this year.
“We decided to run some new water only having two fish earlier today,” Glasgow said. “The first cast, I caught a 2 1/4-pound spot. We thought we had the place to win it. But from that point on, we probably had 15 to 20 bites …We were getting short strikes. But yesterday, the same bait got us two 5-pounders and that 7-pounder.”
Those fish were caught on a shad-colored Megabass Magdraft, as well.
Final thoughts: The Top 12 teams split a total cash purse of $8,967 and the leading 10% of the 211 total teams earned entry into the national title tournament.
The tournament on Lake Norman was the second of four two-day events in the Bassmaster College Series this year. A College Series Wild Card event also will precede the championship.
This week’s derby was hosted by Visit Lake Norman, Visit Charlotte and Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation.