Joshua Butts and Reid Conner of Wallace State-Hanceville rose to the top of the leaderboard once again as they took the title of the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Wild Card presented by Bass Pro Shops at Lay Lake with a three-day total of 40 pounds, 11 ounces.
Although the final day presented numerous changes and obstacles, Butts and Conner started Saturday with a bang and rode the slight uptick in momentum to the Wild Card victory. After leaving Beeswax Landing at 5:30 a.m., the duo ran 25 minutes up the Coosa River, and it didn’t take long to get the day rolling in the right direction. Conner’s first cast resulted in the team’s kicker fish, a hefty spotted bass, which anchored their 10-13 to win the title.
“I think the feeding window was getting earlier every day because of the change in the moon phase,” Butts said. “They didn’t feed on this spot until 8 a.m. on Thursday, then it was 6 a.m. on Friday.”
Today’s feeding frenzy was so short that Butts and Conner only landed three fish off their main spot, two of which were barely keepers. After bouncing around some current breaks up the Coosa River, they landed a limit and slowly culled throughout the day.
“We had used a big crankbait all week to land our good fish, but today we had to use a jig and shaky head heavily,” Conner and Butts said. “There were some big boulders that the fish were hanging behind as the water pushed past it. We would get hung up often, but we knew that’s where the fish were.”
Butts has now taken home two Carhartt Bassmaster College Series victories, the other being on Lake Barkley in 2015. Both events were the Wild Card “last chance” format to get to the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship presented by Bass Pro Shops.
“It means so much to win events like this,” Butts said. “I’m so happy Reid could win this with me because of how great it makes you feel, not just around our region, but nationally too.”
Luke Gillund and Robby Troje of Bemidji State University almost chased down the eventual champions as they brought the biggest bag of the final day to the scales. With 14-1 on Saturday, Gillund and Troje vaulted from 10th to second when the scales closed.
This duo had an immense amount of pressure on their shoulders as the national championship is in their school’s city later this summer. The Bemidji Chain of Lakes will host the 2017 national championship and will have two home teams qualified as Gillund and Troje join the Swanson brothers who qualified via the Midwest Regional.
“To qualify for the national championship and for it to be in our backyard is awesome,” Gillund and Troje said. “We can see the lakes from our school, that’ll be a neat experience.”
Gillund and Troje earned the Bassmaster Big Bass Award of the event, with a 6-13 largemouth they brought to the stage on Saturday. It topped the previous mark by over a pound and a half.
“We tried to make our shallow bite work on Thursday,” Gillund said. “But after we finished in 58th, we knew that bite was dying for us.”
They switched it up and fished trees and stumps on an offshore ledge and improved their standing every day. They mainly used a crankbait and a shaky head to catch their fish. On Friday the crankbait netted Gillund a double, his first ever, and on Saturday the shaky head landed the big bass of the event.
Austin Mize and Parker Davis of the University of North Alabama moved into third place after weighing 12-1 pushing their three-day total to 37-8. The teammates had a two pronged approach that they keyed on during different times of the day.
“We had an early shad spawn bite in the morning, but it was dying every day of the event,” Mize said. “It gave us a good one on Thursday, and it came in handy today as we landed a few more.”
Once their shad spawn bite died an hour into the day, the duo fished offshore and pounded a school of bass each of the three days.
A crankbait paid big dividends on Thursday, but as the week wore on more finesse approaches landed fish for the teammates.
Brody McWilliams and Tristan Gold of Indiana University landed in fourth place with 37-5, and Brady Bowden and Tyler Pennington rounded out the Top 5 with 36-13.
JP Kimbrough and Jared Rasco of the University of Louisiana-Shreveport took home the Bass Pro Shops Nitro Big Bag of the event because of their 17-1 weight on Day 1, which gave them the early lead. Josh Butts and Reid Conner took home the Livingston Lures Day 2 Leader Award for holding the lead after Friday.
The Top 18 teams are now qualified for the national championship, which is August 7-12 on Bemidji Lake in Minnesota.
The event was hosted by Discover Shelby County and the University of Montevallo Presidential Outdoors Scholarship Program.