College Championship opens door to Classic

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Imagine how interesting it would be if the MVP of the NCAA national football championship game earned a position in the NFL Super Bowl, and he was guaranteed to play. Could he match the skill level of the pros?

Although we’ll never know the answer to that question on the football field, America will get to see how the brightest collegiate anglers stack up against each other next week, when the 2012 Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship takes place July 25-29.

One university will go home with a national title, and one angler will earn a spot in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic (often referred to as the Super Bowl of bass fishing), where the hopeful will test his or her mettle against the world’s best fishermen.

The first three days of competition will see the 71 best teams in collegiate angling fighting for bragging rights and the national title. Afterward, individuals from the Top 4 teams will fish solo for the one available 2013 Classic spot.

Although earning a trophy for their school is top priority for the teams, each angler can’t help but have the 2013 Classic in the back of their mind. Mook Miller and Kyle Billingsley of the University of Arkansas team are already looking forward to competing with the pros — a goal Billingsley said is at the top of both their bucket lists.

“The idea of winning a spot in the Classic consumes us both,” said Billingsley. “We’re die-hard fishermen, but we’re really good friends and have both worked very hard. We’ve talked about it, and we’re both of the mindset that if it puts one of us in the Classic, we’ll be happy and pull for each other. We’re more than excited that this tournament is in our backyard. We’re going to go out and give it everything we’ve got, and hopefully, come out on top.”

It’s a sentiment most collegiate anglers share as they prepare for the contest that begins with a full field fishing the Arkansas River on July 25. The second day, anglers will compete on Lake Maumelle. On July 27, the field will be cut to the Top 5 teams, which will fish a mystery location.

After the Carhartt Bassmaster College National Champion is crowned, the Top 4 teams will fish again, July 28-29, with the anglers divided bracket-style as individual competitors for the Classic spot.

Evan Smith and Jordan Mullineux of Arkansas Tech share the dream of winning the National Championship, as well as fishing against the top pros in 2013.

“We’ve joked about what will happen once we get to that point,” Mullineux said. “We know each other’s secrets. Having to compete against each other will be much harder than having to beat any other team.” 

Billingsley and Miller, who won the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Central Super Regional title, took every opportunity to fish the waters of the Arkansas River and Lake Maumelle before they went off limits June 20.

“We’re from Little Rock, and we fished it a lot to try to get a little edge,” Billingsley said. “That was a month ago, and the river changes quite a bit during that time — so does (Lake) Maumelle. When we fished the last time in early June, we found the spots where the bass were and what they were eating. That gives us a direction to go in when we start practice for the tournament.”

Michaela Anderson, who fishes with team partner Bryan Billeadeau for the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, has not yet practiced for the championship, but she has been studying Google maps to understand the fishery she’ll face.

“Our plan is to prefish all day and cover as much water as we can,” she said. “We’ve been doing what research we can online, and we’re trying to get some really solid patterns on both lakes.”

Anderson said the championship waters are unlike any she’s been on in her home state, though she fished a different pool of the Arkansas River in high school competition.

“I think the current will play a big part in this competition,” she said. “It’s definitely going to be tough, but my partner and I fish together really well as a team.” Anderson said she’d like to be the one to finish first, earning a shot at the Bassmaster Classic title in 2013.

“This is my passion,” she said. “And it’s awesome to have a chance to fish with some of the best anglers in the country. I want to pursue this and go pro and encourage more women to get out there and fish.”

Cody Ross and Dewey Swims of Tennessee’s Bethel University came out on top in the South Super Regional and are on a winning streak. The weekend following the South regional, they won the southern collegiate on Wheeler Lake. They capped those victories with a third-place finish in a tournament on Kentucky Lake.

“This will be different,” Ross said. “There’s an extremely large amount of competition. It’s the dream for a lot of people to go to the Classic. Somebody is going to get the right fish and have the big bag. We want to get to that point.”

Following the award of the National Champion on July 27, competitors from the Top 4 teams will go head-to-head in a bracket format as individual competitors. Each member of the first- and fourth-place teams will compete individually, going out in sponsor-provided boats. The individual anglers in second and third compete individually in the second bracket. The field will be narrowed over the course of two rounds during two fishing periods on July 28 until two anglers are left. These two anglers will fish one more round on July 29, vying for the Classic spot.

“We chose this format because they’re competing for the most prestigious award in collegiate fishing — a berth in the Bassmaster Classic,” said Hank Weldon, college tournament director. “We wanted the anglers to run the gauntlet to earn that honor, and we felt like we’ve achieved that.”

“I think the bracket is little more exciting and splits everyone individually for top teams,” Billingsley said. “It makes it easier on anyone who will be in the Top 8. You don’t want to knock your partner out of the top berth. This bracket makes it a little easier to handle mentally.”

On July 25-27, college teams will launch at 6:10 a.m. each morning, and tournament weigh-ins will be held at 3:30 p.m. CST at Little Rock Tractor Supply Co., 10801 Colonel Glenn Rd. The public is invited to attend the free expo, which opens daily at 2:30 p.m. CST. Hamburgers and hotdogs from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s team will be available for sale at the expo as a Carhartt-sponsored fundraiser for the college.

All Carhartt Bassmaster College Series events will be broadcast on ESPNU.

2012 Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Title Sponsor: Carhartt

2012 Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Official Sponsors: Toyota, Ardent Reels, Bass Pro Shops, Berkley, BOOYAH, Falcon Rods, Humminbird, Luck "E" Strike, Mercury, Minn Kota, Nitro Boats, Skeeter Boats, Triton Boats, Yamaha

2012 Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Proud Partner: Mustang Survival