JUNCTION CITY, Kan. — Thursday comes down to a Mountaineer chasing a Tiger in the final round of the 2018 Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Classic Bracket presented by Bass Pro Shops on Milford Lake, near Junction City.
West Virginia University angler Nolan Minor will chase the top-producing angler of the tournament so far, Campbellsville University’s Nick Ratliff. The winning angler not only lands a berth in the 2019 Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK'S Sporting Goods, to be held March 15-17 on the Tennessee River at Knoxville, but also the use of a fully-rigged Toyota Tundra, a Nitro Z20, a $7,500 stipend courtesy of Carhartt and paid entry fees into the 2019 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens.
Ratliff and Minor came out on top in a tough contest Wednesday as wire-to-wire College National Championship winners Garrett Enders and Cody Huff both hit short circuits on 15,700-acre Milford Lake, which is Kansas’ largest reservoir.
Ratliff, who was the No. 3 seed, racked up five fish for 11 pounds, following his first day’s total of 12-13. He went head-to-head with the No. 1 seed, Enders, who fell one fish short with four for 8-1.
Minor, the No. 5 seed, rolled in with 10-8 on Wednesday improving on his 7-15 from Day 1. He topped the No. 2 seed, Huff, who had five fish for 8-10, also lighter than his Day 1 total of 9-9.
Enders, a senior business management major, and Huff, a senior biology major, still have a shining college career thus far. They missed the College Bracket tourney by a hair in 2017, missed the final day of the bracket by a few pounds Wednesday, and promised to be back for their final year.
“Oh yeah, we’ll be back and ready to get after it again,” Huff said. He noted he just figured out the fish too late this time. He was glad he figured them out but said, “it stinks when you figure them out a little too late.”
Enders had similarly finicky fish. He fought the urge to explore new ground because he said he knew he had big fish in his area and all he needed was one more good bite, it just never came.
Shallow-water smallmouth near deep dropoffs will be the name of the game for Ratliff, a junior majoring in business administration, and for Minor, a sophomore wildlife and fishery resources major. Both said they are targeting shallower smallmouth while their boats rest over 20 to 30 feet of water.
Ratliff said he thinks he needs 12 pounds to win. Minor said, “anywhere between 10 and 15.”
They differ in their weather preferences for the final day. Ratliff would prefer it clear and calm, but it doesn’t have to be that way, he said. With clouds and light rain, plus short periods of sun both day, he’s done just fine.
Minor said he hopes for wind and doesn’t think sun or clouds will matter much for the smallmouth he’s chasing.
“I’d just like to have wind,” Minor said. “If the weather is good I’m going to do my thing, if not I’m going to have to adjust and move to the jerkbait, and I caught some with a jerkbait today.”
His top baits have been a blue-and-white Zara Super Spook when the water is calm and a white Evergreen SB topwater plug in choppy water.
Ratliff said his ideal spot is a rocky shoreline ledge with a dropoff to 25 or 30 feet. His weapons of choice are a green pumpkin Secret Lures Stupid Tube rigged with a 3/16-ounce weight, or a 3.5-inch smoke color Dry Creek tube.
“When you pull it off that shelf they just eat it,” he said. “If it’s sunny and calm and I can see that shelf and actually cast to the target it will be great, but I have other places and everyone knows smallmouth are super random. I have places where I haven’t caught them yet, but I could pull up there tomorrow and catch them.”
The final faceoff continues from 7:20-10:30 a.m. ET and 11:30-2:30 p.m. Thursday at Acorns Resort on Milford Lake. Follow the anglers at Bassmaster.com with the BASSTrakk Leaderboard and the Bassmaster blog all day plus Bassmaster LIVE at 10:45 a.m. and 2:45 p.m.