CULLMAN, Ala. — A year after Connor Jacob and Sam Smith struggled to find quality bass on this fishery, the tandem from Auburn University is atop the leaderboard after Day 1 of the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series at Smith Lake presented by Bass Pro Shops.
Jacob and Smith, both 20-year-old sophomores, caught a limit of five bass Friday that totaled 14 pounds, 14 ounces. That gave them a narrow lead over the University of Michigan’s Paul Tabisz and James Ge, who are in second place with 14-8.
In all, 192 teams from 27 states are competing in the two-day tournament here in north-central Alabama.
Jacob and Smith had some quality catches on Friday, led by the 4-5 largemouth Smith hooked later in the day when the duo retreated from the high sun into the back of pockets off the main lake.
“We were on these trash mats, flipping around the edges, and I saw something that looked like fry swimming around,” Smith said. “I dropped down right through it and set the hook where (the 4-5) was.”
That bass likely bumped Jacob and Smith into the lead, though they were productive throughout the postcard-perfect day, with sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-70s.
The tandem fished swim jigs around docks first thing Friday morning and wound up with an early limit of spotted bass, including a 3-pounder. That was the same technique they tried last February during the College Series event here, but it didn’t work, and they wound up finishing 127th.
It was a different story on Friday, though.
“We were a year ahead of ourselves,” Jacob said, laughing. “Honestly, we expected it to be pretty slow today. We had two horrible days of practice. But within the first 45 minutes, we had that limit. I think it’s the ending of a shad spawn we saw last week. We spent the last few hours looking for new water. We didn’t catch too many that helped us today, but we found some places that can help us tomorrow.”
Jacob and Smith said they’ve caught bass in all three phases of the spawn since they began practicing on Lewis Smith Lake earlier this week. They think they can exploit any of those bites and make a run at the tournament title on Saturday.
“We caught a couple that had eggs coming out of them,” Jacob said. “We caught a bed fish in practice, and the big one Sam caught today, I’m pretty sure that was a prespawn fish. It was weird to see all that happening, but we’re happy with how we did today.”
Tabisz and Ge weighed five spotted bass on Friday and said they’ll target those again on Day 2.
“We couldn’t get anything going on largemouth in practice, but we found something pretty special on the spots,” Tabisz said. “We had our limit by about 9 o’clock. The bite’s been consistent since about Wednesday afternoon, so I think the weather holding steady for us has helped.”
Jacob Witkowksi and Layton Brown of Dallas Baptist University are in third place with a limit that weighed 13-8. Auburn anglers have the fourth and fifth spots locked down currently — Garrett Warren and Will Jones are fourth with 13-6 and Sam Hoesley and Sam Hanggi are fifth with 13-3.
The entire field will fish again Saturday with the top 10 percent of anglers (19 teams) advancing to the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship presented by Bass Pro Shops. That event will be held later this year at a location yet to be disclosed.
The Smith Lake tournament originally was scheduled to be held in April but was postponed following heavy rains last month that caused water levels in the fishery to swell. A Bassmaster Open event also scheduled for the lake was postponed, as well.
The second and final day of the tournament is set to begin with a 5:45 a.m. CT takeoff from Smith Lake Park. Weigh-in is scheduled to begin back at the park at 1:45.
The tournament is being hosted by the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce and Smith Lake Park.