MOUNTAIN HOME, Ark. — Carter McNeil and Cole Floyd of Bethel University busted an 18-pound, 5-ounce bag today to win the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series presented by Bass Pro Shops at Bull Shoals Lake.
Starting Championship Saturday in sixth place, McNeil and Floyd brought in the biggest bag of the day, second largest of the three-day event, to total 48-6. They finished 1-10 ahead of Day 2 leaders Joshua Boone and Blake Riley of Eastern Kentucky University, who weighed their smallest bag of the week at 13-15 to total 46-12.
“I’m excited about it,” said McNeil, who teamed with Floyd in a second-place finish at the 2017 National Championship on Lake Bemidji in Minnesota. “We’ve been close.
“We lost some good fish this week, everyone did. Today, when I caught our last 4-pounder, we knew we had a chance.”
With the victory, Bethel, a private university in Tennessee that is among several institutions offering bass fishing scholarships, is flexing its muscle of late.
“This is a great thing for these two guys, and for our school,” said Coach Garry Mason, who has had angler John Garrett qualify for the 2017 Bassmaster Classic. “They have almost won everywhere we’ve gone. Now they’ve got one under their belt.
“They’re going to get to fish the national championship again, so this a very exciting time for Bethel University, and also for Carter and Cole. We appreciated how hard they work.”
Work it was on Bull Shoals this week. McNeil and Floyd fished midface on Thursday’s first day, catching a solid bag of 14-10 but standing in the pack at 37th. A better bag of 15-7 in sunny conditions Friday moved them to sixth place, 2-13 out of the lead.
Their Day 3 took them back on a 45-minute run up the river from the takeoff at Bull Shoals Boat Dock.
“We tried to get away from everyone, get in more stained water up the river,” Floyd said. “We were only getting one good bite a day. The first two days, unfortunately, we lost both those fish. We were scared that was going to come back to haunt us.”
“Today, everything just fell into place for us,” McNeil said. “We got the bites we needed and landed the fish.”
The Bethel anglers flipped a tube the first day, then switched to a Berkley creature bait the last two days, flipping to the more isolated bushes.
“We were just flipping the bushes,” Floyd said. “We kind of keyed into shorter pockets off the main lake, something with a little dirtier water. You’d get on the bank side, try to find some that were separated out a little better.
“I think they were up there spawning. The majority of the bites would be right in the middle, but once in a while you’d be swimming it out and get one.”
Second-place anglers Boone and Riley said the big bite that helped them cull to a 17-4 bag on Day 2 eluded them on Championship Saturday, when their bass came on a Zoom Lizard.
“Everything yesterday came on a ChatterBait,” Riley said. “We just didn’t get a big bite today, and we needed one.”
Boone was appreciative of all the help the bass fishing community in the region offered his team.
“You can’t believe how much stuff I tear up on a daily basis,” he said, again thanking the boat dock mechanics, Ranger and Vexus boat workers for their help this week. “I love this community. I want to retire here.”
Boone and Riley weighed the third largest fish in the event at 5-4. Isaac Duncan and Fisher Young of Blue Mountain College tied Luke Mason and Justin Lane of the University of North Alabama for the big bass with fish weighing 5-9.
Duncan and Young finished fourth with 44-7, just 3 ounces behind the third-place team of Dalton Smith and Wil Rigdon of Campbellsville University.
The Top 20 teams not already qualified for the College National Championship advance to the late summer event at a location to be announced.
After crowning a national champion, the top four teams will compete individually in the Carhartt College Bracket with the end prize being a berth to the 2020 Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods.
The B.A.S.S. crew still has work this week in north central Arkansas, with them moving over to Lake Norfork for the Mossy Oak Fishing Bassmaster High School Central Open. A total of 82 teams registered Saturday afternoon for the one-day event. The weigh-in is scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m. CT. The Bassmaster Junior Central Open, with eight teams, will also be held on Norfork, with weigh-in set for approximately 1:30 p.m.