Arkansas jumps into Top 5

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — On another day when the temperature hit triple digits, Arkansas' Mook Miller and Kyle Billingsley withstood the heat and jumped 10 places in the standings to qualify for Friday's Top 5 final of the Carhartt Bassmaster College National Championship.

"Our goal was 10 pounds today, and we missed it by just a little bit," Billingsley said.

The two Little Rock natives knew they had some ground to make up after weighing only four bass totaling 5 pounds, 6 ounces on the Arkansas River Wednesday.

The tournament moved to Lake Maumelle Thursday, and the University of Arkansas team was one of only six to catch a five-bass limit. Their bag weighing 9-2 was just two ounces short of the biggest of the day, and vaulted them from 15th to fifth.

"We caught them in one-inch of water all day long," Billingsley said. "They were behind the grass on the bank. It was a fun day of fishing.

"We saw only two other teams fishing shallow. We practiced the heck out of fishing deep, but I'm glad we didn't have to go to it."

Oklahoma State's Zack Birge and Blake Flurry maintained a big lead in the three-day event, even though they weighed only 4-4 Thursday. After catching 17-4 on Day One, they didn't have to do much.

"We kind of got to relax today," said Birge. "I wasn't worried about catching a big fish."

OSU goes into the finals with a four-pound lead over Alabama's Dustin Connell and Logan Johnson and Murray State's Justin Graben and Vincent Campisano, who are tied for second with 17-8. Auburn brothers Jordan and Matt Lee are in fourth place with 16-10.

Unlike last year, when the two-day totals were zeroed going into the finals, the weights will carry over when the tournament moves Friday to Hurricane Lake, a 326-acre private reservoir in nearby Benton.

Exactly seven pounds separates first from fifth place, but Hurricane holds the possibilities of some much bigger bags than have been caught from the Arkansas River and Lake Maumelle over the previous two days..

Jordan Lee was on the Auburn team that finished second to Stephen F. Austin in last year's college national championship, and he was on the Auburn team in the 2010 tournament as well. Understandably, he knows nothing about Hurricane Lake, but he's compiled considerable knowledge of central Arkansas, mid-summer bass fishing over the past two years.

"No matter where we go, I think I've got a pretty good understanding of what it takes to catch fish this time of year here," said Lee, who caught a 4-15 that took big bass honors Thursday.

And he'd like another chance at the national championship, after a four-pounder jumped the hook in the final minutes last year. That bass would have given Auburn the title.

"Everybody loses fish," Lee said. "But that one was special. We'd been catching them on football jigs all day. That four-pounder was halfway to the boat when it came off."

After the national collegiate team championship is decided Friday, members of the top four teams will be seeded individually in a two-day event at 960-acre Beaverfork Lake in Conway, Ark., to determine which collegiate angler earns a berth in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic.

Morning and afternoon sessions Saturday at Beaverfork will whittle the eight-man field to two finalists, who will go head-to-head Sunday at Beaverfork.

Friday's launch at Hurricane Lake begins at 6:10 a.m. CT. The weigh-in starts at 3:30 p.m. at Little Rock Tractor Supply Co., 10801 Colonel Glenn Road. The public is invited to attend the free daily expo, which begins at 2:00.