College: Auburn's Parks, Smith rally to victory

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Kyle Jessie

BANGOR CHARTER TOWNSHIP, Mich. — The Auburn University duo of Logan Parks and Tucker Smith entered the final regular-season Carhartt Bassmaster College Series presented by Bass Pro Shops event at Saginaw Bay with the lead in the Team of the Year standings and left little doubt who will be hoisting that trophy come August.

After starting Day 2 in fifth, Parks and Smith increased their two-day total to 40 pounds, 9 ounces with a final-day bag of 19-9 to earn the victory on Saginaw Bay, beating the second-place team of Zach Salters and Jenson Kay from Adrian College in Michigan by just 3 ounces. They defeated the third-place team of Ryan Park and Sam Niemeyer from Murray State in Kentucky by just 5 ounces.

It was a victory — and a season — Parks wasn’t sure was even going to be possible after Auburn University suspended the team in March for a year for violating COVID-19 protocols set forth by the school. The suspension was ultimately reduced to a couple of weeks and Parks, Smith and the rest of the Tigers squad entered each event after that with a new drive.

“I’m happy to be here and happy to be fishing again. When we got suspended, I felt like it was my fault because I was the president of the team and I worked as hard as I could to overturn that suspension — and we were able to,” Parks said. “Every event we have been at we’ve dominated. You can tell these boys are ready to fish, and we are happy to be back.”

Throughout the week, Parks and Smith focused their efforts on finding smallmouth that were staging on rockpiles outside of spawning flats. Smith said they caught most of their bass using a Berkley MaxScent Flat Worm on a drop shot.

“They would pull off and sit on those rockpiles to feed back up,” Smith said. “Some were prespawn and some were postspawn.”

Parks said the largemouth they caught were set up around reeds along the bank on points that were moved tighter to the cover by the wind.

On Day 1, the duo caught all smallmouth bass to fill their limit of 21-0. Parks said they started the day fishing for largemouth, but conditions did not set up right early.

“You never know if they are going to bite tomorrow, and we leaned on our spots harder,” Parks said. “We definitely caught better size yesterday. We left them biting and thought we saved enough for today. Managing it is difficult, but I think we did alright. I think that cold front yesterday shut the largemouth down.”

After catching a big smallmouth to start the morning and filling a limit of smallmouth early on Day 2, Parks and Smith moved to a grassy area of the lake they found during practice and made an important cull, hauling in a 4-pound largemouth that crushed a black buzzbait. From there, they returned to the Bay and caught several more 3-pound smallmouth that helped the cause.

“Everything we did we caught fish,” Smith said. “It was a fun day.”

Sitting in fourth place after Day 1 with 21-4, Salters and Kay went back to the same area of the Bay on the final day and caught 19-2 of smallmouth to jump to second.

“We had a few saved from yesterday. We went in there and thankfully were able to get five decent ones,” Kay said. “We had a couple that were 4-plus that we couldn’t get to go yesterday, and we were hoping they would go today and just didn’t. What can you do? It was still a great day for us.”

The Adrian College duo found a spawning flat with enough beds to last for two days. They used tubes, hair jigs, a 2.5-inch Keitech swimbait and a drop shot.

“We took that and ran with it,” Salters said. “We were really worried about getting locked in on Day 1. We didn’t practice the river too much but everything ended up working out.”

Kay added that he broke off a 4-pounder that would have culled a smaller fish and potentially given them the win.

Park and Niemeyer overcame a navigational mistake early in the day to land 22-11 of largemouth — the biggest bag of the tournament — and jumped from 21st place to third.

“It started off rough. We tried to make a run to Charity Island and (Ryan) got lost on the map,” Niemeyer said. “We went out for smallmouth and they weren’t there like we thought they would be.”

With the smallmouth not firing, Park and Niemeyer went searching for largemouth and built a 14-pound bag by midday. As the day progressed, they made a move to a place that Niemeyer called a sub impoundment, an area of water surrounded by concrete with a 50-yard opening leading in that they found big largemouth around during practice, and were able to upgrade their limit on a wacky-rigged Senko.

“We were chatting and the conditions were really setting up right for that spot,” Park said. “We pulled in there and we made all of our upgrades in about 20 minutes.”

Jake Maddux and Carson Maddux, also from Auburn, took home the Carhartt Big Bass of the Tournament award thanks to a 5-13 largemouth, earning them a $500 Carhartt gift card.

The Top 17 teams from this event punched their tickets to the 2021 Carhartt College National Championship presented by Bass Pro Shops to be held on the famed St. Lawrence River Aug. 12-14. The Team of the Year champions will officially be announced during the tournament festivities.

Teams that did not qualify for the championship during the four regular-season events will have one more opportunity to do so next week at the 2021 Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Wild Card Tournament presented by Bass Pro Shops on Alabama's Lay Lake.

Festivities from Saginaw Bay continue on Saturday with the Mossy Oak Fishing Bassmaster High School Series presented by Academy Sports + Outdoors and the Mossy Oak Bassmaster Junior Series.

The tournament was hosted by Bangor Charter Township in partnership with Great Lakes Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Michigan B.A.S.S. Nation.