MANY, Louisiana – Bethel University’s Cody Huff and Dakota Pierce had to wait more than four hours to catch a bass on Thursday during the opening round of the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series at Toledo Bend presented by Bass Pro Shops.
They made the most of their remaining time, however, and are atop the leaderboard on this vast, 185,000-acre reservoir straddling the Louisiana/Texas border.
Huff and Pierce hammered the Toledo Bend bass for an hour just before noon on Thursday. After the flurry, they found themselves with a five-bass limit that weighed 19 pounds, 11 ounces, which gave them a slim, 14-ounce lead over Thad Simerly and Ethan Shaw of Bryan College, who hold down second place with 18-13. Tanner Ward and Rory Franks of Kent State University are in third place with a 17-10 limit.
A total of 248 teams from 37 different states are competing in the tournament, which is the first of four college series events scheduled for 2020. The Top 25 duos will automatically qualify for the national championship later this year, and the Top 12 will survive Friday’s cut here and fish for a tournament championship on Saturday.
Huff and Pierce were the steadiest duo out the gate. The bass in their limit were all in the 3 ½ to 4 ½-pound range and came in a short burst of activity just before noon.
The haul pleased the leaders, but they’re accustomed to success. Huff won the Bassmaster College Classic Bracket last year and clinched a berth in the 2020 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk as a result. Pierce and another Bethel teammate finished 10th in a Bassmaster College Series event on Toledo Bend in 2018.
Experience paid off Thursday as the Bethel anglers withstood a slow start on a cold and dreary day in northwest Louisiana.
“We kept looking and looking and we finally ran into them,” Huff said after the Day 1 weigh-in at Cypress Bend Park. “It took us about an hour to (finish a limit) once we did find them. I think we’re on a special deal. We found a bunch of fish in practice and they moved on us a little bit the past day or two. We just had to relocate them.”
The duo caught eight or nine keepers, but had to cover a lot of water to find bites.
“It wasn’t a really great day, but things finally came together for us,” Pierce said.
Huff and Pierce said Thursday’s chill and intermittent rain didn’t bother their bite, but they’d rather not have significant wind on Friday. Toledo Bend can get choppy in the slightest of winds, and that could stymie their plans.
“If it lays down and we can run around and look at a lot of stuff, we’ll be alright,” Huff said.
Simerly and Shaw actually caught the heaviest limit on Day 1, but incurred a two-pound penalty for having six bass in the live well at one point on Thursday morning. They reported the violation to tournament directors and were docked, dropping their 20-13 total to 18-13.
It cost Simerly and Shaw first place on Day 1, but the setback didn’t diminish their hopes for continued success.
“We went to a place where we caught fish in practice and they weren’t there,” Shaw said. “We figured they hadn’t gone far and we found them on a little rock drop-off. My first cast there was a keeper and then I caught a limit. We stayed on that spot for 30 minutes and caught everything we could. By 9:30 (a.m.) we were done.”
Shaw provided the numbers, but Simerly brought the big bump – a 6 ½-pound largemouth that was one of the heaviest bass caught Thursday.
"When I caught the big one, I thought I was hung up on something,” Simerly said. “When I saw it, I told (Shaw) to hang on because I knew I had something big.”
Stevie Mills and Baylor Howell of Bethel caught a 7-8 largemouth that has them in the lead for the Carhartt Big Bass Award and $500 in Carhartt gear that goes with it.
Huff and Pierce lead for the Bass Pro Shops/Nitro Big Bag Award with their 19-11 limit.
Additional college series tournaments are scheduled for Feb. 27-29 on Smith Lake in Alabama, March 26-28 on Lake Hartwell in South Carolina and May 6-8 in Lake Cumberland in Kentucky. The series championship will follow, with the date and location of that derby yet to be disclosed.
The Mossy Oak Fishing Bassmaster High School Series at Toledo Bend presented by Academy Sports + Outdoors will follow the college event on Sunday. The Mossy Oak Bassmaster Junior Series at Toledo Bend also will be held that day.
All three events are presented by the Louisiana Office of Tourism, Toledo Bend Lake Country, the Sabine River Authority, Desoto Parish Tourist Commission and the Vernon Parish Tourist Commission.
Friday’s action begins with a 7 a.m. take-off. Weigh-in will begin at 3 p.m. Follow all the action on Bassmaster.com.