BANGOR CHARTER TOWNSHIP, Mich. — Despite a three-hour run and a slow start to the day, the Wallace State Community College team of Clent Blackwood and Bryar Chambers sacked up 21 pounds, 15 ounces of smallmouth bass on Saginaw Bay to take the lead on Day 1 of the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series presented by Bass Pro Shops.
The Alabama anglers hold a 5-ounce lead over the second-place team of Tyler Vanbrandt and Jarrod Layton from Adrian College in Michigan and an 8-ounce lead over third-place Brian Linder and Nathan Thompson.
“We were thinking this would be tough,” Blackwood said. “We knew what was in this lake, and we didn’t find anything in practice. We found some largemouth but nothing of size. In practice, we only saw one smallmouth, and we took a gamble this morning and made a long run.”
Despite only catching one smallmouth in practice, Blackwood and Chambers made the run out of Saginaw River and into the Bay and arrived at their spot around 9 a.m. After Blackwood landed their first bass in just three casts, the bite stalled and the duo made a couple of moves.
After two hours without a bite, Blackwood and Chambers hit a flurry, catching almost all of their weight in a matter of minutes before heading back to check-in.
“We fished around for like two hours and then it was bam, bam, bam,” Chambers said. “We just started catching them. It really didn’t matter what we were throwing, I don’t think (the fish) had ever seen baits before. They just reacted to anything that came past them.”
Blackwood said the water was so clear on Saginaw Bay that they could see the smallmouth on the bottom in 12 feet.
“We were fancasting, zigging around, and when we found one, we would focus on that fish until it was in the box,” he said. “We are going to have a lot fewer rods on the deck tomorrow. We were able to close in on what they are keying in on. We are feeling good, but we are still anxious.”
Heading into the final day, Chambers said he and Blackwood are going to fish the same way, but isn’t sure if their spot will reload tomorrow.
“I don’t know if we can repeat it on the same hole, but I think we can repeat it not far from there,” he added.
While much of the Top 5 focused on smallmouth, Vanbrandt and Layton caught five largemouth bass for 21-10 to land in second place.
In practice, they fished for largemouth with little success. But on tournament day, they made an adjustment and found the quality they needed.
“We came out here and practiced and looked for mostly largemouth and didn’t find anything great. We caught one 4-pounder,” Layton said. “Today we pulled up to our areas and fished them a little differently than most people would and caught 4-pounders. It was a crazy day. The conditions were perfect.”
During a breezy final day of practice Tuesday, Layton said the water in the area got pushed to the south shore. As winds calmed Wednesday, the water began flowing back into the area, creating current that helped the Adrian College duo locate their fish with several different baits.
“We had a limit of 11 pounds by 10 a.m., and then between 10 and noon we jumped up to between 15 and 17 pounds,” Vanbrandt said. “We caught our last big one around 1:30 and came in early to make sure we were in. It was an all-day thing, but the big ones were toward the end of the day.”
Layton said he and Vanbrandt plan on hitting some of the same areas they fished on Day 1 and have a spot they located in practice saved for the final day.
Linder and Thompson focused their efforts on smallmouth, and while they only had six bites throughout the day, landed a five-bass limit weighing 21-7 using predominantly a drop shot.
“We had a pretty long run and caught our fish in about three hours, but we only had six bites the whole day,” Thompson said. “We caught our fish off boulders in a certain area. The area is huge and they are extremely spread out. (Humminbird) MEGA 360 helped us a lot with that, for sure.”
Having never been on the lake prior to this week, the Minnesota duo used their knowledge of their home lakes to help them eliminate unproductive water on Saginaw Bay.
“The first couple days of practice we just looked for the stuff that looks good on our home ponds,” Linder said. “We caught a couple and rolled the dice on it and it paid off.”
The sixth-place team of Lucas Smith and Dalton Mize from Jacksonville State University caught a largemouth weighing 5-9 to earn Carhartt Big Bass honors on Day 1. Meanwhile, the Bassmaster Team of the Year leaders Logan Parks and Tucker Smith from Auburn University caught 21-0 to land in the Top 5 heading into the final day of the regular season.
The full field of 167 boats will compete Thursday for a chance to not only take home the tournament victory but to punch their ticket to the 2021 Carhartt Bassmaster College National Championship presented by Bass Pro Shops at the St. Lawrence River in August.
Teams will take off from Independence Boat Launch at the USS Edison Battle Ship starting at 6 a.m. ET and return for weigh-in starting at 3 p.m.
The tournament is being hosted by Bangor Charter Township in partnership with Great Lakes Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Michigan B.A.S.S. Nation.