JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. — In a tough opening round of the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Eastern Regional presented by Bass Pro Shops on Cherokee Lake, Tennessee Tech University teammates Sam Carris and John Berry weighed 15 pounds, 8 ounces of bass to take an early lead.
The leaders were challenged by two Bethel University bass fishing teams with five-bass limits weighing within ounces of theirs.
Carris and Berry started the action soon after they left takeoff at the Cherokee Lake Dam as they had four bass in the first 45 minutes of competition. After losing a bigger bass early, they rebounded well enough to upgrade their weight throughout the day, making that lost fish seem insignificant by day’s end.
Another pair of college anglers is fishing within sight of Carris’ and Berry’s hot spot, but the leaders were able to work out an agreement they hope will prevent the school of bass from being depleted.
“We had an open line of communication with the other nearby team today and we both agreed to leave the area after catching our limits,” Berry said. “By the looks of it, we both held up that end of the deal and it should work out just fine on Friday.”
This isn’t the Cherokee Lake that Bassmaster Elite Series anglers experienced in February, when it took almost 70 pounds in four days to win. The lake level is 25 feet higher than it was three months ago, and fish-holding cover like brushpiles and rockpiles are at the optimum depth for bass.
As a result, the 160-boat field has ample water to fish.
Tennessee Tech’s success has stemmed from one predominant pattern and lure, which the anglers aren’t ready to divulge.
“We are concentrating on one thing and one thing only,” Berry said. “If we ever switch up, we switch colors, but that’s it.”
With boats shuffling spots and the pressure of qualifying for the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship, anglers tend to get in a hurry. Berry and Carris aren’t letting anything speed them up and their slow approach has paid off.
“We got an early boat draw and caught a 3-plus pounder on our third cast,” Berry said. “We didn’t get in a hurry and only caught 10 fish or so today. The biggest key was keeping them all alive, because not having a ‘fish-care penalty’ was equally important to our success.”
A 4-ounce penalty, assessed if a bass isn’t alive at weigh-in, is crucial with the second-place team of Evan Owrey and KJ Queen of Bethel University just 3 ounces behind.
With a first-round catch of 15-5, Owrey and Queen headline a strong lineup of teams from Bethel University, which claims three teams in the Top 5 and six in the Top 13 after today’s competition day.
The Bethel duo brought a mixed bag to the scales, which featured three good largemouth and a heavy smallmouth. One of their largemouth took the lead for the Big Bass Award as it registered at 4-4, the only fished over 4 pounds weighed on the first day of competition.
With the high water, Owrey and Queen knew there would be a solid shallow bite, and they were able to capitalize on that. Add in some spotted bass and that smallmouth and you can classify their day as “junk fishing 101.”
“We did a lot of map study and saw photos of what the lake was like when it was low,” Queen said. “Adding 25 feet on top of some cover narrowed down some of our offshore spots, but fishing what looks good really paid off today.”
Close behind them in third place are teammates John Garrett and Brian Pahl of Bethel. Garrett is the reigning College Classic champion and represented the College Series at the 2017 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods as well as the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens.
The duo managed second in the 2016 National Championship and are one step closer to qualifying again here this week.
The full field of teams will launch Friday at 6:30 a.m. ET from Cherokee Lake Dam Boat Ramp, and the weigh-in will be held in the same place at 2:30 p.m.
The event is hosted by the Economic Development Alliance of Jefferson County, Tenn. and Carson-Newman University.