College: Chico St dominates West

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Mark Hicks

REDDING, Cal.— The Chico State team of Tyler Firebaugh and Chad Sweitzer won the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Western Regional presented by Bass Pro Shops Friday. Their five-bass limit of 10-pounds, 14-ounces, brought their three-day total to 36-5.

Firebaugh and Sweitzer’s final limit came on a day when the fishing was slower for the field of 16 college teams than it had been the previous two days. Their final-round performance proved that the astonishing leap they made Thursday from last to first place was no fluke.

“We were catching good fish in practice when it was sunny,” said Sweitzer.

Their most productive tactic in practice was casting soft plastic Senko worms to flooded trees. However, the first day of the tournament was cloudy and their Senko bite did not produce as well as it had in practice.

“Since we were in last place the first day, we figured our only chance to win was to go for broke,” Sweitzer said.

Going for broke meant starting day two casting big, jointed, hard-plastic swimbaits to coax one of Shasta’s trophy spotted bass to bite. Sweitzer has caught spotted bass in excess of 8 pounds on other lakes with a swimbait, so this wasn’t new to him.

About 90 minutes after takeoff on Thursday, something resembling a submarine swam up and engulfed Sweitzer’s swimbait.

“He kept screaming at me that he had hooked the world record spotted bass,” Firebaugh said.

When the rotund bass was safely netted and in the boat, they found that Sweitzer hadn’t been far off. The bass weighed 9-10 later at the weigh-in, roughly 1-pound shy of the world record. The enormous bass brought Firebaugh and Sweitzer’s second-day, five-bass limit to 18-0, which was the heaviest of the tournament.

The trophy spotted bass was the only fish the pair caught on a swimbait during the entire event.

With sunny, warm weather on the third day, the Senko pattern Firebaugh and Sweitzer had found in practice worked well again. It produced better quality bass today then the other college teams could muster.

By winning the tournament, Firebaugh and Sweitzer earned $4,500 for the Chico State bass fishing team. They also received a $1,500 first prize, plus the $500 Carhartt Big Bass award for catching the heaviest bass of the tournament. Add to this the Bass Pro Nitro Nitro $250 gift card for the heaviest limit of the tournament.

Even more important, Firebaugh and Sweitzer earned a berth to the College National Championship that will take place in August of 2017.

The second place team, from the University of Oregon, also qualified for the College National Championship. That team consists of one person who fished alone on all three days, Jacob Wall. Wall won the College Series Western Regional last year at Lake Mead, Nevada. He dreams of becoming a professional tournament bass fisherman and appears to have what it takes to succeed.

Advancing to the College National Championship puts Wall, Firebaugh and Sweitzer one step closer to the dream of qualifying for the Bassmaster Classic. The eventual College champion receives an invitation to the Classic.