Cowboys start on top

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Oklahoma State's Zack Birge and Blake Flurry needed only two hours on the Arkansas River Wednesday to practically assure themselves a spot in Friday's Top 5 Final of the Carhartt Bassmaster College National Championship.

On a day when temperatures hit 102 degrees and there was little current in the river, Birge and Flurry caught a five-bass limit weighing 17 pounds, 4 ounces.

"We caught all five on a frog in one foot of water," said Flurry. "By about 8:15, 8:30, we were shut down."

Only one other team in the 57-team field totaled double digits Wednesday. Murray State's Justin Graben and Vincent Campisano are in second place with 12-10.

The tournament moves Thursday to Lake Maumelle. The two-day totals will determine the Top 5 for Friday on an as yet unnamed "mystery lake," where the National Championship team will be determined.

Here's how tough it was for most everyone Wednesday: Only 11 teams caught five-bass limits, and 30 teams weighed one fish or less.

It was a day when only a possible berth in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic would be enough incentive to entice any angler to be on the Arkansas River. But that's exactly what's in play this week in Little Rock.

Graben and Campisano were shocked to be in second place. The Murray State team was able to compete Wednesday only because a teammate brought them another boat, after an Arkansas River obstruction disabled their boat in practice.

"We had a horrible practice," said Graben. "We didn't spend any time on Maumelle because we busted up our boat on the river."

When asked what was owed a teammate for driving his boat from Kentucky for them to use Wednesday, Graben said, "I don't even want to think about it."

The Virginia Tech team of Carson Rejzer and David Bryant took third place with 9-15, and they had the best "one-that-got-away" story. Rejzer, a self-described "second-year senior" was part of the Virginia Tech team that made last year's Collegiate B.A.S.S. final.

"I lost one that would have weighed 9 pounds," Rejzer said. "Its mouth would have fit round my trolling motor."

Bryant confirmed that they just missed a monster.

"I dropped my rod," he said. "I was just like, 'Wow.'"

Unlike the Oklahoma State team, their early morning pattern didn't materialize. So they started flipping grass in the Little Rock pool, using Reaction Innovations' soft plastic Sweet Beavers.

"We caught fish from 10 o'clock on," said Rejzer.

Rounding out the top five Wednesday were Alabama's Dustin Connell and Logan Johnson with 8-4 and Auburn's Jordan Lee and Matt Lee with 7-15. There are another seven teams bunched within 2 pounds of fifth place.

The Bassmaster Classic berth will be decided among the top four teams after Friday, when they will be bracketed in individual competition. The top two individuals after Saturday will go head-to-head Sunday to determine the Classic berth.

Both Birge and Flurry would feel like they had an advantage over the pros in the 2013 Classic, which will be held in their home state of Oklahoma on Grand Lake next February.

"February is when you catch the big ones at Grand," Flurry said.

Both OSU anglers are going into their senior year in college. Birge is majoring in wind turbine technology; Flurry's major is crop soil science.

But both hope to be bass fishing professionally after graduation.

"That's the No. 1 goal," Birge said. "That degree is probably third on the list."

What's second?

"Guiding," Birge said. "If that doesn't work out, I'll probably fall back on that degree."

As they demonstrated Wednesday, these guys are serious about bass fishing.

Tomorrow's launch begins at 6:10 a.m. CT. The weigh-in begin at 3:30 p.m. at Little Rock Tractor Supply Co., 10801 Colonel Glenn Road. The public is invited to attend the free daily expo, which begins at 2:00.

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