SHELBY COUNTY, Ala. — Between school, work and other obligations, the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Wild Card presented by Bass Pro Shops at Lay Lake was the only chance for Blake Jackson and Trevor McKinney from McKendree University to qualify for the National Championship.
Thanks to a 14-pound, 7-ounce bag of mostly spotted bass on the final day, they increased their two-day total to 30-2 to take home the victory and do just that. To make it even more special, it happened on the same lake where the anglers squared off against each other in the final round of the College Classic Bracket last season, with McKinney winning and advancing to the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk.
“I was telling Blake, ‘Man, we ought to move down here.’ Every time we come we catch a bunch of fish and catch big ones,” McKinney said onstage with tournament director Hank Weldon.
“This is what we’ve fished for the last four years,” McKinney continued offstage. “We’ve had a good college career, but we had never won a Bassmaster event. This was our last chance and we really wanted to win. It makes it sweet being our last event.”
With this tournament win under their belts, Jackson said Lay Lake will hold a special place in his mind and, for this tournament in particular, the best part was fishing with McKinney and not against him.
“The best part about this week, we were catching fish on the same bait for the most part (that we used) during the bracket against each other,” Jackson said. “We combined forces this week and were catching them on the same exact bait we were throwing then. It was really neat.”
The Dallas Baptist University duo of Michael Postlewait and Andrew Rickman had the biggest bag of the tournament on Day 2 with 18-6 to climb from 23rd to second place with a two-day total of 29-6. Day 1 leaders Weston Hollar and Wesley Gore from the University of Montevallo finished third with 29-2.
After landing in third place on Day 1 with 15-11, McKinney and Jackson started the day on a spot they found with 30 minutes to go the previous day. Using almost exclusively a Rapala DT6 crankbait in chartreuse/brown, the duo took advantage of the early morning bite and strong current in the midlake region.
“We had a couple of current breaks on the main river that we were targeting,” said McKinney, who finished 31st in the Classic earlier this month on Lake Ray Roberts. “We caught them really well this morning and had all of our weight by 8:30. The current by the end of the day was almost nonexistent. When you are fishing for spots, especially on the Coosa River, current is huge, and if you can find them in the current they are easy to catch and the DT6 is the best crankbait in the world to throw at spotted bass in the current.”
Every fish they caught swallowed the bait, Jackson said.
“These spots go nuts to begin with, but every one of them had two treble hooks in them,” he said. “(McKinney) made a comment today while we were out on the water and said, ‘I think we’ve had to use the pliers to get every one of these fish unhooked.’”
With the floodgates throughout the Coosa River open this week due to heavy rains from Tropical Storm Claudette that passed through over the weekend, McKinney and Jackson were able to find several places loaded with spotted bass. Jackson added that hard bottom was the key to finding the specific areas the spots related to.
Now that they are qualified for the Bassmaster College Series National Championship, which is scheduled for Aug. 12-14 on the St. Lawrence River, Jackson and McKinney have their sights set on a top finish and making their way back to the College Classic Bracket.
“We are going to go up there and hopefully qualify for the Bracket again,” McKinney said. “The Bracket was an experience that everyone should have. It is awesome what they do to give one college angler a shot to fish the Bassmaster Classic. To think we are going to have a shot to make the Bracket at the championship feels really great.”
After catching 11-0 on Day 1 fishing points on the south end of the lake, Postlewait and Rickman ran up the river and landed on a current break that was loaded with big spotted bass.
“We basically scrapped everything we did yesterday,” Rickman said. “The first day of practice we were fishing the dam, and he caught a 4.89 spotted bass. So, we got up there today and they cut the current off a little bit and we had four in the first 20 minutes and five in the first 40 minutes, and we kept culling throughout the day.”
With only minutes left to fish, Rickman cast his crankbait into the current and caught about a 3 1/2-pound spot. Deeper-diving crankbaits were the key for the Dallas Baptist duo in the current under the dam.
“We were sitting in a little eddy, just enough to where we could hold there, and we were bombing 5XDs and 6XDs, whatever we didn’t snap off, into the current,” Postlewait said. “We had to weed through the striper. We caught 30 stripers today, and every once in a while, it would be a 3-pound spot.”
They also added a 5-pound largemouth flipping while giving their primary area a rest.
The lack of current on Lay Lake on Day 2 hurt Hollar and Gore, who caught 11-8 on the final day to finish in third. The Montevallo duo used a Spro Poppin’ Frog most of the week as well as a flipping bait.
“I guess the home-lake curse kind of got us today. We never got a big bite today,” Gore said. “It just wasn’t meant to be.”
While the bigger creeks on Lay Lake were under pressure, Hollar and Gore focused on shorter pockets off the main lake with a feeder creek that was pushing out water from the heavy rains that moved through over the weekend.
“They slacked the water off so much today that it repositioned the fish we were catching,” Gore said. “The fish we were catching were in the backs of bays. Most of the bays you went in that had a main feeder creek were stacked up. Today when we got down there, all the bays were really stagnant.”
Matthew Cummings and Joseph Woods from Bethel University earned Carhartt Big Bass of the Tournament honors with a 7-4 largemouth they caught on Day 1. The Top 10 teams from this event punched their tickets to the National Championship.
The tournament was hosted by Discover Shelby.