SPRING CITY, Tenn. – No matter what, there will be purple in the 2020 Bassmaster Classic.
Carter McNeil and Cody Huff, who both sport the purple and gold as Bethel University teammates, advanced Wednesday to the final round of the Bassmaster College Classic Bracket here on Watts Bar Lake in eastern Tennessee.
The duo will go head-to-head Thursday in a one-day battle with a spot in next year’s Classic on Alabama’s Lake Guntersville going to the winner.
Huff, the No. 6 seed in the eight-man field, continued to impress with a five-bass limit on Wednesday that weighed 13 pounds, 14 ounces. It marked the second consecutive day he had the heaviest total, and it was more than enough to beat No. 8 Trey Schroeder of McKendree University, who caught five bass for 8-6 in the semifinal match.
McNeil, the No. 2 seed, managed only three bass that weighed 6-4, but it was enough to top No. 4 seed Conner DiMauro of Bryan College, who caught two bass weighing 3-3 total.
Fishing conditions remained difficult on Watts Bar, with Tuesday’s overcast skies giving way to bright sunshine and heat on Wednesday. The four remaining anglers in the bracket struggled for bites, with only Huff catching enough bass (seven on the day) to be able to upgrade after posting his limit.
The top four teams (eight anglers) in the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Championship presented by Bass Pro Shops, held Aug.1-3 on Tennessee’s Lake Chickamauga, advanced to fish at Watts Bar.
Results from Wednesday’s semifinal matches are as follows:
No. 6 Huff, Bethel, 13-14, def. No. 8 Schroeder, McKendree, 8-6
Huff started strongly on Wednesday, catching four keepers off his first fishing hole. He finished his limit at a secondary location at approximately 10 a.m. and realized he already had a sizable lead on Schroeder before the morning break that anglers are required to take in this event.
“I saw BASSTrakk (during the break,) and I knew I could relax a little bit,” Huff said, noting that Schroeder had only three fish for about 4 pounds at the time.
“At that point, I just went exploring. I covered some new water and I found a new spot where I caught a 2-pounder. I had a few other nice ones blow up on my bait there, too. I didn’t hook them, but I’m excited to go back there tomorrow.”
Huff, a 22-year old senior from Ava, Missouri, said he’s fishing hydrilla patches this week, and Wednesday’s sun helped him locate bass as they positioned near shaded areas.
“I marked about 200 or so patches of hydrilla in practice, and I’ve hit about 70 or 80 of them, I guess,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll have to expand on other stuff because it’s farther downriver.”
Huff said he caught fish off a favored hydrilla bed in both of his matches this week, so at least one location seems to be replenishing.
“Having this be a catch-and-release works,” he said. “You find a good fish, there’s a chance you can catch it again.”
Huff caught the heavy bag (12-2) on Tuesday, as well. He competed in last year’s Bassmaster College Classic Bracket, after pairing with teammate Garrett Enders to win the 2018 college national championship.
Schroeder, a 19-year old sophomore from St. Louis, had the second-heaviest bag of the day. He knocked off top-seeded Cole Floyd, also of Bethel, on Tuesday.
No. 2 McNeil, Bethel, 6-4, def. No. 4 DiMauro, Bryan, 3-3
McNeil, a 23-year old senior from Abbeville, S.C., struggled again on Wednesday, but only has one familiar opponent standing between him and a spot in the Bassmaster Classic.
McNeil caught the heavy bass of the event so far – a 5-6 kicker that carried him to a win on Tuesday. He had no such bite a day later, but eked into the final, nevertheless.
“I ran around like a chicken with my head cut off today,” McNeil said, referencing Wednesday’s unsuccessful scramble to get five bass in his live well.
“I had a couple missed opportunities, but I couldn’t do much of anything about it. I’m going to have to do something different though, because Cody’s catching them. The fish are out there. He’s proving that.”
McNeil has tried an assortment of techniques to excite the sluggish bass bite this week. He started in the backs of Watts Bar’s creeks on Tuesday and moved to docks and caught the 5-6. He tried docks again Wednesday, but after catching only three bass, has plans to try offshore grass beds in the finals.
“It’s one thing I haven’t done, and I feel like I have to try it,” McNeil said.
Fishing against Huff for a chance at the Classic is going to be special, he said.
“I have goosebumps on my arms just thinking about it,” Huff said. “This bracket is a big deal to us. We shoot to make this event. To get to the last day, and making it with my teammate, is just so much cooler. It’s an incredible feeling.”
DiMauro, a 19-year old sophomore from Longwood, Fla., only had two keeper bites on Wednesday.
Huff and McNeil will take-off from the Spring City Boat Dock at 6:50 a.m. ET on Thursday. The day’s catch-and-release results will be revealed at 3 p.m. ET. Fans can get instant results throughout the day by following BASSTrakk on Bassmaster.com