College: West Virginia leads Day 1

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Justin Brouillard

WADDINGTON, N.Y. — West Virginia University’s Nolan Minor and Casey Lanier outfished nearly 300 other college anglers today in what was a slugfest day of fishing at the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series at St. Lawrence River presented by Bass Pro Shops.

The 149-boat field produced a total weight of 3,031 pounds, 3 ounces to begin this tournament in upstate New York. All but three of the teams caught limits of five bass and of that number, 85 teams weighed more than 20 pounds on Day 1.

The tremendous catches came courtesy of ideal conditions on the St. Lawrence River, including water temperatures right at 60 degrees, a fishing season that began only five days ago and local bass in the throes of a full spawn.

Minor and Lanier took advantage of the bounty. The West Virginia duo caught five smallmouth bass on Wednesday that weighed 26-6 — a one-day total that normally would blow most competitors out of the water, but was good for only a 9-ounce cushion on the bountiful St. Lawrence River.

The Mountaineer duo had a limit within an hour of launching from Whittaker Park on Wednesday and culled four or five times later in the morning. Among their early catches was a 6-2 smallmouth Minor got off a bed. It was a personal best for him and the highlight of a day that saw the leaders scouting new water by 10 a.m.

Minor and Lanier are no strangers to success. They finished fourth in last year’s Bassmaster College Series Team of the Year standings and they were in third place in the race entering this event — the fourth and final regular-season stop for college anglers of 2019.

While a win here would be a thrill, Minor and Lanier previously secured a spot in August’s Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship presented by Bass Pro Shops on Tennessee’s Chickamauga Lake.

“There was no pressure on us today,” Minor said. “This is a great place to fish and just have fun. We’ve already qualified for Nationals, and, although we’re in third place in the Team of the Year points, we’re pretty far behind the top two teams. We weren’t worried about finishing in a certain place in the standings here. We just wanted to catch big ones.”

The St. Lawrence River was a perfect stage for doing that. The question now is whether Minor and Lanier can replicate today’s success on Thursday?

“Nothing we came across after 10 o’clock was as big as the 6-2 that Nolan caught today, but we saw some really great fish out there. We can get 20 or 21 pounds Thursday and maybe cull up to 23 or 24. But anything more than that is going to be tough.”

With a target to shoot at, the rest of the 149-boat field will do its best to pressure the leaders the next two days.

Jackson Carrell and Bryton Kurtz of Sam Houston State University in Texas are in second place after catching a limit of smallmouth bass weighing 25-13. While limits of largemouth weighing in the 25-pound range are not uncommon on Texas fisheries, the team didn’t expect anything like the smallmouth bite they encountered on the St. Lawrence.

“To catch a 25-pound bag of only smallmouth just blows my mind,” Kurtz said. “It’s one of the best places I’ve ever been.”

Carrell stopped short of saying that catching bass was easy on Wednesday, but he admitted the Sam Houston State team didn’t have to work hard to figure out the bite.

“We had one rod on deck the whole day and had the trolling motor high, running banks just like everyone else,” he said. “The water is so clean, you can see the fish at depths anywhere from 4 to 15 feet.”

Perry Marvin and Cantley Krafft of Virginia Tech University are third with 25-10. Brian Linder and Nathan Thompson of Bemidji (Minn.) State University are fourth with 25-9, and Logan Parks and Lucas Lindsay of Auburn (Ala.) University are fifth with 25-5.

The college event on the St. Lawrence follows similar derbies held earlier this year on North Carolina’s Lake Norman in February, Alabama’s Smith Lake in March and Arkansas’ Bull Shoals Lake in April.

The Top 10 percent of teams from each of those tournaments, as well as the ongoing event at the St. Lawrence, qualify for the national tournament on Chickamauga on Aug. 1-3. Duos can also qualify for the championship through their individual state tournaments or by finishing in the Top 25 of the Team of the Year standings.

Parks and Lindsay boated a monster 6-7 smallmouth that leads competition for the Carhartt Big Bass Award, which earns winners a $500 gift certificate. Minor and Lanier are in the lead for the Nitro Big Bag Award and the $250 gift certificate that will accompany it.

The full field of 149 teams will take off from Whittaker Park Thursday at 5:30 a.m. ET with weigh-in scheduled for 1:30 p.m. The Top 12 duos will fish on Friday for cash and prizes.