JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. — Lucas Murphy and Nolan Hitt had only fished one official tournament together before they teamed up this week in the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Eastern Tour presented by Bass Pro Shops.
The first event was forgettable, but this one they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.
Murphy and Hitt, who compete for Grand Valley State (Mich.) University, came from behind today to win the college tour stop here on Cherokee Lake in northeast Tennessee. The tandem caught a five-bass limit that weighed 13 pounds, 9 ounces. Combined with the 29-1 they caught on the first two days of the tournament, they finished with a three-day total of 42-10.
That was enough to overtake Bethel University’s Cully Scroggins and Nathon Portch, who held the lead on both Day 1 and Day 2 of this event, but wound up finishing third overall (41-2).
The University of Alabama team of Lee Mattox and Anderson Aldag finished second with 41-6.
Murphy and Hitt were in third place entering the final day of fishing in the Eastern Tour event. But with less than 6 pounds of bass separating the first place team from the 32nd place team, every team seemingly had a reasonable chance to win.
Murphy and Hitt seized their chances with consistent catches throughout the tournament – 15-1 on Thursday and 14-0 on Friday. That set the stage for their surge on Saturday.
When Scroggins and Portch came to the scales with 11-6 on Day 3 (their lowest of the tournament), the Grand Valley State duo breathed deep sighs of relief before hoisting championship trophies.
“We fish a lot together and work well together, but this is only the second eight-hour event we’ve entered together,” Murphy said. “I’ve been lying in my cot at the campground dreaming about holding up these trophies. What an incredible feeling.”
Murphy and Hitt drop shotted exclusively on Cherokee Lake and they had a limit each day by 10:15 a.m., which they said allowed them to relax. They only had to cull once, and that was on Saturday with minutes to spare.
“And we only picked up an ounce or so on that cull,” Murphy said. “The morning bite was important for us.”
Their best bass came on a point in the main lake about 12 miles north of the Cherokee Lake Dam. They also caught a few off an offshore hump about four miles from the dam that had no particularly pertinent features, but certainly was productive.
“The point basically was where somebody’s backyard met the lake,” said Murphy, a rising senior at Grand Valley State. “There was some sand or pea gravel down there and right away, we knew it was a good spot. I think we caught keepers that helped us in anywhere from 8 to 15 feet this week.”
Hitt’s best bites came on a Strike King Half Shell (green pumpkin) and Murphy on a Strike King Dream Shot (honey candy). Each was rigged with 1/4-ounce tungsten weights.
The Grand Valley State team tandem was prepared to employ different techniques if necessary, but got all the results they needed by drop shotting. All of their bass were smallmouth.
“We fished them the same way we do back in Michigan, we just had to go a lot slower,” Hitt said. “The fish were kind of finicky once the sun got up high. We really had to remind ourselves to slow down. Coming in, we thought we might have to try some different things, but all we had was six rods on the deck and all of them were rigged for drop shots.”
Murphy and Hitt won $2,000 for the Grand Valley State fishing team with their win. They also earned a berth in the 2018 Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship presented by Bass Pro Shops, which will be held in July on Oklahoma’s Lake Tenkiller.
“I just graduated, so to be able to start the summer with a win at the highest level of college bass fishing is incredible,” Hitt said. “And now we have the national championship to look forward to.”
Rounding out the Top 6 are Nathan Bell and Cole Sands of Bryan College in fourth with 40-14, KJ Queen and Brad Ableman of Bethel University in fifth with 39-15, and Logan Parks and Lucas Lindsay of Auburn University in sixth with 39-9. Parks was a 2017 Bassmaster High School All-American presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods recipient — an honor that only 12 high school standout anglers receive each year.
Bethel’s Ryan Winchester and Tyler Black won the Carhartt Big Bass Award (a $500 Carhartt gift certificate) for having the biggest bass of the three-day tournament – a 4-7 bass Black boated on Friday.
Scroggins and Portch won the Bass Pro Shops Nitro Big Bag of the tournament with their Day 1 limit of 17-7. They received a $250 Bass Pro Shops certificate with the award.
In all, 263 tandems from 125 colleges and universities began the tournament here on Cherokee Lake. The field was cut to the Top 32 after Friday’s weigh-in.