FLORENCE, Ala. — Adrian College’s Nick Marsh and Jarrod Layton rode a wave of shallow largemouth to victory at Pickwick Lake in the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Southern Tour presented by Bass Pro Shops with a three-day total of 58 pounds, 11 ounces.
After catching over 20 pounds on both Thursday and Friday, the duo from Michigan managed 17-8 during Saturday’s final round to notch the victory by a 5-6 margin over West Virginia University’s Nolan Minor and Casey Lanier.
Although they believed their pattern was dying due to the falling water, Marsh and Layton made a slight adjustment and brought in another solid bag of largemouth to sail away with the win.
“We had a few key bites on Friday around cypress trees,” Marsh said. “We knew the water would continue to drop and the fish would completely leave the buckbrush and eventually the cypress trees. We shifted to cypress trees and the middle of the pockets. The water cleared up, and we eventually started seeing big largemouth laying in the mud trying to spawn.”
They used a one-two punch of flipping a jig at isolated cover and throwing a spinnerbait in the gaps as they covered water. Their key bait was a 1/2-ounce black and blue jig with subtle trailers like a Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver. The spinnerbait size was key as Marsh and Layton threw a heavy 3/4-ounce model with a bigger blade than what comes stock.
“A lot of anglers like to throw a lighter spinnerbait when you’re in 2 feet of water or less, but I felt a bigger one would help coax those bigger fish around the trees and brush,” Marsh said. “I changed those blades to bigger sizes, so it would produce more thump and it also allowed me to fish it slower through the cover.”
Each day the Adrian College teammates would catch one big smallmouth at Wilson Dam to help anchor their bag. But that didn’t pan out Saturday as the fishing near the dam was tougher, so they bailed and relied solely on largemouth.
Minor and Lanier steadily moved up each day of competition as they went from 22nd place on Thursday to third on Friday and eventually settled in the runner-up position. They shared water and often saw the winners from Adrian College, but they also found a way to catch smallmouth without competing at the dam.
After three days, their 53-5 three-day total consisted of largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass.
“We had two areas very close in proximity,” Minor said. “We would start on a main river current seam and catch our limit in the first two hours and then we would fish shallow cover for largemouth and some spotted bass the rest of the day.”
Their smallmouth area was taken over by spotted bass on Championship Saturday, but they were solid bass. They managed a limit in the first hour but never could upgrade shallow because of heavy boat traffic in the shallow sloughs they had been fishing.
“We fished current seams with a Ned Rig and then flipped shallow bushes with a Texas-rigged Missile Baits D Bomb,” Minor said. “Alabama has treated us great over the first two years of college fishing. Bass act the same for the most part all over the country, but these lakes have some big and beautiful fish.”
The biggest jump on the final day came from Joe McClosky and John Austin-Welch of Bethel University who moved from 19th to third after catching 21-11 on Saturday. They fished deeper than most teams this week hoping to find places that reloaded with fish. They did so and qualified for their first Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship presented by Bass Pro Shops in their first Bassmaster College Series event.
Matthew Cross and Mekiah Jack of Middle Tennessee State University took home the Big Bass Award for catching an 8-2 largemouth on Thursday.
The Top 5 teams also received Abu Garcia Veritas rods and Abu Garcia Revo reels for outlasting the record-setting, 266-boat field.
With the conclusion of the Southern Tour event on Pickwick, there are two remaining Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Tour events left, with the next coming at Cherokee Lake in Tennessee and the finale at Clear Lake in California, both in the month of May.
The Top 38 teams qualified for the National Championship, which is at Lake Tenkiller, Oklahoma, on July 19-21, 2018.