DAYTON, Tenn. — Bryan College’s Cole Sands and Conner Dimauro know Lake Chickamauga about as well as anyone, and they proved it Thursday on Day 1 of the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship presented by Bass Pro.
The duo caught five bass that weighed 24 pounds, 9 ounces, which gave them more than a 2-pound lead on the other 115 teams competing this week in the southeast corner of the Volunteer State.
Bryan College is located across the street from Dayton Municipal Park where takeoffs and weigh-ins are being held during the championship. The park abuts the trophy-bass lake and both anglers said their familiarity with the area clearly helped their fortunes Thursday.
“I spend my time out here,” Sands said. “It’s not a coincidence and I’m not gonna deny we were blessed today. But we had a really tough practice and didn’t know what we’d catch. We thought we could catch about 15 pounds and that was about it.”
The difference between a lackluster practice and a sensational first day was the 7-15 kicker bass that Sands caught Thursday. It tied for the second heaviest bass of the day, and along with some other quality keepers that Dimauro boated, it was more than enough to give the locals the lead.
But as both anglers said, they didn’t think they were on the right fish to make that happen. To take advantage of any opportunities, Sands and Dimauro kept a dozen rods on the deck most of the day. At one point, the five bass they had in the livewell had been caught on five different lures.
The “kitchen sink” approach worked.
“We culled a bigger bag today than we had all of practice,” Dimauro said. “But as tough as conditions were for us, we saved a lot of stuff.”
Sands said he and Dimauro will continue to “fish the conditions.”
“When we blasted off today, we knew where we were going to start and how we did after that was how we were to go from there,” Sands said. “That is an advantage of knowing the lake … It’s not like we’re catching just deep or just shallow. It’s a little bit of everything.”
Carter McNeil and Cole Floyd of Bethel University are in second place with a five-bass limit that weighed 22-6. They won the Bassmaster College Series tournament on Bull Shoals Lake in Arkansas earlier this year, but now they’re after a bigger prize.
Like the tournament leaders, McNeil and Floyd compete regularly on Chickamauga, which is a four-hour drive from McKenzie, Tenn., where Bethel is located. But they too struggled in practice until finding their groove Thursday.
“We just expanded and fished a bunch of new water today,” Floyd said. “It’s just one here and one there. It’s not a big group of fish.”
McNeil is confident he and Floyd will have to produce another big bag if they want to survive the cut to the Top 12 following Friday’s weigh-in.
“This lake is capable of producing some really big bass,” McNeil said. “If we’re consistent, I think we can make it to the last day. But like Cole was saying, the fish are just scattered. We could go tomorrow and catch average fish. We’ll just stick to our game plan and see if we can do it again tomorrow.”
Landon Siggers and Logan Reynolds of Wytheville (Va.) Community College are third with 20-6, while Jarrett Brown and Elliot Torode of the University of Montevallo (Ala.) are fourth with 19-14. The University of Tennessee’s Robert Gee and Saxton Long are fifth with 19-12.
Brandon Mann of Arkansas Tech caught an 8-2 kicker on Day 1 that currently holds the title of Big Bass of the tournament. Mann and his partner Hunter Bryant are currently in 12th place.
The Top 4 teams (eight anglers) at the championship will advance to the Bassmaster College Classic Bracket to be held Aug. 27-29 at Watts Bar Lake, also in Tennessee. They will compete individually in a head-to-head format there with a berth in the 2020 Bassmaster Classic at Alabama’s Lake Guntersville going to the winning angler.
Day 2 of the College Series National Championship will begin Friday with takeoff from the Dayton Boat Dock at 6:40 a.m. ET. Weigh-in is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. at Point Park.
Bryan College, the City of Dayton and Fish Dayton are hosting the national championship.