College anglers battle for Team of the Year

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Ronnie Moore
Casey Lanier and Nolan Minor

University of West Virginia anglers Nolan Minor and Casey Lanier have had all the luck one could wish for the past few days. Now, as they prepare for the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Western Tour presented by Bass Pro Shops, they’ll see if a title follows.

Minor and Lanier weren’t even sure they’d be competing this week on Clear Lake – the fabled fishery in northern California. Their college team is small, they don’t have a lot of sponsorship money and traveling from coast to coast to fish is not easy for anyone, much less college juniors on a fixed budget.

But when they found themselves in sixth place in the inaugural Team of the Year standings after the College Series Eastern Tour event two weeks ago on Tennessee’s Cherokee Lake, they decided to pull out all stops to get to California.

Minor and Lanier knew the hardest part of the equation would be making the 2,000-plus mile trek across the continent,  so they decided they would fly to Clear Lake, which is located due north of San Francisco. They’d need a boat, of course, so Minor cold-called a marina on Clear Lake to see if someone in the area might loan them one.

“The guy gave me the number for someone named Lyle (Gossett) who’s a boat mechanic out here,” Minor said. “I called Lyle and he said he’d loan us a boat. Well, I’m not old enough to rent a car, so he said he’d loan us a truck. And he said if we needed a place to stay, he had a trailer where we could sleep during the tournament.

“When we flew into Sacramento, a woman named Mindy picked us up and drove us halfway here,” Minor said. “Then a woman named Deanna brought us the rest of the way. It’s been kind of crazy, how all this happened.”

“Apparently, Lyle helps a lot of young folks that make their way out here to fish,” Lanier said. “He’s a great guy.”

Minor and Lanier are hoping their good fortune continues when the Western Tour stop begins on Wednesday. They are one of 25 teams preregistered for the tournament, and one of four tandems that have a chance to clinch Team of the Year honors with a solid performance on Clear Lake.

Tyler Craig and Spencer Lambert of the University of Louisiana-Monroe drove 33 consecutive hours to reach Clear Lake’s shores. They lead the Team of the Year standings with 1407.06 points. Brian Pahl and John Garrett of Bethel University are in second place (1401.88), but they aren’t competing on Clear Lake.

That leaves the Sam Houston State duo of Dillon Harrell and Colby Bryant (third place, 1372.92 points) as well as Caiden Sinclair and Hunter Gibson on Alabama (sixth place, 1314.62 points) as the two other teams besides Minor/Lanier with a chance to surpass the leaders.

The point system used to decide Team of the Year standings takes the number of entries in a field (believed to be 25 at Clear Lake) and divides by 500 (which produces a quotient of 20). So using that formula, the winning team in this event would get 20 more points than the second place team, 40 more than the team in third, etc. The scoring works that way throughout the standings.

Given that Craig and Lambert have a 35-point lead over Harrell and Bryant, a 47-point lead over Minor and Lanier and a 93-point edge over Sinclair and Gibson, any of that trio could overtake the Louisiana-Monroe team should the leaders stumble even slightly.

“If we finish three spots ahead of the guys from Louisiana, we think we would take the lead in the Team of the Year,” Minor said. “No one knows what the third-place team will do, though, and there are still some points out there for fishing in your state qualifier. So nothing is set until all the points are counted. But it’s all really exciting to know it could come down to the very end.”

Dock talk out of Clear Lake indicates bass are plentiful, but have averaged 2 to 3 pounds. That means a limit of less than 20 pounds each day could be more than enough to win the Western Tour event.

But there’s one other thing factoring into the tournament.

“This is Clear Lake,” Lanier said. “There are 10-pound bass swimming out there. You catch one of those, it could be a game-changer.”

Craig is well aware of that, too.

“We haven’t had any problem catching fish, but there hasn’t been a lot of size to them,” he said. “But one big bite could be the difference.”

The four contending teams for the Team of the Year Award already have qualified for the National Championship to be held on Oklahoma’s Tenkiller Lake on July 19-21. That could ease the tension enough to allow the contenders to catch an early limit on Clear Lake and then target a trophy bass that could help secure Team of the Year honors, as well.

“Our ultimate goal is to get into the championship and then into the College Classic Bracket,” Craig said. “But while we’re at it, we’re going to try to win the Team of the Year honor, too. It’s bragging rights and it would be great to finish on top the standings.”