Eastern Kentucky takes over college lead

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Mike Suchan

MOUNTAIN HOME, Ark. -- Not two days ago, mechanical issues had Joshua Boone and Blake Riley thinking they should head home.

Overcoming a number of problems, the teammates from Eastern Kentucky University are glad they stayed, especially after taking the lead in the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series presented by Bass Pro Shops at Bull Shoals Lake.

Boone and Riley weighed in 17 pounds, 14 ounces, including the big fish of the day at 5-4, for a two-day total of 32-13. In second place is Isaac Duncan and Fisher Young of Blue Mountain College with 31-10. The top 12 are within 3-2.

“The day before yesterday, we were almost dead set on going back home because we didn’t have a trolling motor,” Boone said. “We had great help from the Bull Shoals Boat Dock. They gave us a trolling motor to use. One that I tore up, the Ranger plant fixed for us. So now we have two working trolling motors.”

The mechanics at the boat dock also fixed their balky big motor after Day 1 -- “got us right in and fixed us right up,” Boone said.

Despite the equipment troubles, EKU found and caught plenty of fish -- around 70 today in sunny conditions after about half that during Thursday’s rain. Riley said they were catching fish after fish shortly after first putting in for practice.

“When we got here, we put a new trolling motor on, and within five minutes we started catching fish, from like a school,” he said. “We were getting one big bite a day. Day 1 we didn’t, but we got that big one today.”

That was Boone’s 5-4 that gave them the day’s heaviest bag.

Duncan and Young brought in 15-1 today after a Day 1 bag of 16-9. They climbed to second after being tied for seventh.

“We’re having to run through a bunch of numbers to get a big bite,” Young said. “Both days, we’ve caught a five-pounder in the last hour of the day. We really fortunate and thanking the Lord above for having the opportunity to keep catching fish.”

Duncan still holds the big bass lead with his 5-9.

“It definitely wasn’t my biggest fish, but it was very special fish to me,” he said. “It was really cool to see my name on Bassmaster’s website last night leading big fish. Just as a little kid, fishing high school, college, you see the names atop the leaderboard and you just dream of being there one day.”

This is the second top 12 Duncan had made this year. He finished sixth on Lake Norman in February fishing solo.

“It’s really been a humbling and incredibly year, just seeing the things that God can do when you put your trust in Him,” Duncan said. “We feel like we’ve dialed in our pattern and put the pieces of the puzzle together. We feel like we got it dialed in to a T.”

Duncan said the Blue Mountain team has been alternating between two effective baits and, like EKU, they believe they can catch the abundant 2- to 3-pounders in Bull Shoals but say another big bite will be key to their chances.

“I think we’ll need a 17-pound bag,” Young said. “Can’t say we’ll be comfortable, but we’ll be right there. If we catch 18, that might seal the deal.”

Boone and Riley are of the same thinking. The kicker fish are critical but certainly not easy to come by.

“The big ones are hard to pattern,” Boone said. “We’ve caught them all through the day, but there’s so many 3-pounders in this lake, it’s hard to differentiate where the big ones are going to be. With what little practice we had due to mechanical issues, we found a few key areas holding better fish.”

And even when a loose nut on their battery terminal made them believe their trolling motor was yet again dead today, they made the best of it.

“We lost power to the trolling motor for 45 minutes. During that time we put our Power-Pole down and caught three fish, and one of our biggest keepers,” said Boone, who added it should take them at least 16 pounds to have a shot at winning.

The top 12 teams will launch from Bull Shoals Boat Dock at 6:30 a.m. CT Saturday. The championship weigh-in moves to Mountain Home High School and will begin at approximately 3:15 p.m.

The Top 20 teams not already qualified for the College National Championship advance to the late summer event at a location to be announced. After crowning a national champion, the top four teams will compete individually in the Carhartt College Bracket with the end prize being a berth to the 2020 Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods.

Cole Sands and Conner Dimaruo of Bryan College, the first-day leaders, were disqualified Friday after disclosing that they had violated Rule 3 in the college series rulebook. The rule prohibits receiving or soliciting information about finding and catching bass during official practice and competition. College Senior Tournament Manager Hank Weldon said, "They realized they had violated a tournament rule, and after today's weigh-in, they notified us of the violation. We then disqualified the team from the competition."