TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — One spot, two anglers, one giant lead, and an incredibly short period of time. That’s what the final day of the 2018 Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship presented by Bass Pro Shops could come down to Saturday.
Or, maybe, that’s only what will have worked for Days 1 and 2.
“We had ’em all by 7:30 [a.m.] today,” Cody Huff said of the five-fish bag that kept Huff and his Bethel University teammate Garrett Enders on top of the pack Friday with 15 pounds, 10 ounces to compliment their Day 1 hit for a total 32-4 and 6-2 lead over their nearest competitors.
The field for Saturday is narrowed to 12 teams who will face off for the Championship title and a Top 4 ranking, which will move them on to the College Bracket set for Aug. 14-16 on Milford Lake out of Junction City, Kan. That’s where they will split up to compete individually in a bracket-style, catch-and-release competition where eight will be cut down to the one who will be awarded a berth in the 2019 Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods, set for March 15-17 on the Tennessee River hosted at Knoxville.
Tenkiller Lake continued to test teams with searing heat, no wind and finicky fish as the Bethel seniors repeated their performance in front of the crowd in the tournament hosted by Northeastern State University and Tour Tahlequah.
“Moving day” did seem some swings but the Top 7 from Day 1 all made it through to the finale. Big movers who made the Top 12 include Tanner Ward of Kent State, fishing singly and filling the 12th spot after a move from 45th place on Day 1 with a bag of 12-2 for a total of 16-9. Right along with him from 44th place came Thad Simerly and Ethan Shaw of Bryan College with 12-3 for a 16-11 total.
The heartbreaker of the day saw home Northeastern State University team Taylor Hamburger and Carson Smith draw a blank and drop from fourth to 15th place and out of the running.
Swings both big and little will be on the minds of the top duo from Bethel as they launch Saturday with 11 bulls-eyes on their backs and a near miss from 2017 Championship, when they missed the Top 4 by a few ounces.
“We’re just going to go out and fish,” Enders said.
An early morning bite and teamwork have carried them this far. Thursday they filled their livewell early and spent the rest of the day watching others pull in their fish. When the boys hit their hot spot first thing on a clear, 72-degree morning Friday they caught a fish on their second cast and kept the action going.
Teamwork was key, said Enders.
“Cody flipped into a brushpile and caught one and he went back and pulled off his fish, and I flipped in there and by the time I took care of mine he was ready and we caught three just like that,” he said. “If it wasn’t for the partnership deal I don’t know if we would have been able to keep them going like that.”
The pair pulled six off their morning spot, moved on, and again sweated out the rest of the day targeting similar types of cover without another bite.
Miserably hot weather continued with a 106-degree high (and 112 heat index) on Tenkiller Friday with just enough breezes to raise hopes for a minor respite that never came.
Saturday’s forecast calls for a few more clouds and a little less heat with a high in the mid 90s. It’s a minor weather change, and Huff and Enders don’t expect their fish to move.
“They’ve been there for a month and a half,” Huff said. “We know they’re around there.
“If they don’t hit early we’ll just stay on it, slow down, try different things. We’ll sit there and try to scrounge them out.”
Second-place anglers Cole Burdeshaw and Peyton McCord of Auburn University said they are confident about pulling in another five and they will let the cards fall from there.
“They have a pretty big lead, but we’ll get a limit and just see what happens,” Burdeshaw said. “We’ll be alright.”
Rounding out the Top 5 are Lucas Murphy and Nolan Hitt of Grand Valley State University, brothers Thor and Mitch Swanson of Bemidji State in fourth and Bradley Dunagan and Nick Ratliff of Campbellsville University in fifth.
Carhartt Big Bass moved up from 5-9 to a 6-3 that came to the boat for sophomore Hayden Bartee of Alabama’s Jefferson State University. It was caught off an offshore brushpile on a Strike King Structure Head with a Big Bite Baits Fighting Frog.
“She come up and jumped once and about gave me a heart attack,” Bartee said.
Overall Big Bass, determined after Saturday, will land a $500 Carhartt gift certificate.
The contest continues Saturday with takeoff at 6 a.m. CT from Cherokee Landing State Park. The final weigh-in begins at 3 p.m. at Northeastern State University Beta Field in Tahlequah. Fans are encouraged to come early and enjoy the Bassmaster Outdoors Expo featuring interactive sponsor displays and free giveaways from 1-5 p.m. All activities are free and open to the public.