College: Wisconsin-Platteville claims title

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Hunter DeSplinter (left) and Conner Choate of the University of Wisconsin-Platteville

MANY, La. — The week has been full of twists and turns for Hunter DeSplinter and Conner Choate of the University of Wisconsin-Platteville at the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Central Tour presented by Bass Pro Shops on Toledo Bend.

After catching 25 pounds, 9 ounces on Friday, they took the lead as the Top 30 teams prepared for the final day of competition. Little did they know they wouldn’t need another cast on Toledo Bend to take the Central Tour title.

Saturday’s action was canceled after heavy fog hung over Toledo Bend, and Choate and DeSplinter were named champions with a two-day total of 41-6. Conditions weren’t conducive to send teams onto the 185,000-acre reservoir — and as the minutes ticked by, the fog seemed to settle into the Sabine River impoundment more and more.

“If half of the day or more is threatened by a delay, then the day is canceled,” Tournament Director Hank Weldon said. “We scheduled Saturday’s final day to be an eight-hour event, but with fog making visibility non-existent on Toledo Bend we canceled Saturday’s action for good reason.”

When the clock struck 11 a.m. CT, the 30 teams had mixed emotions as some were fine with not going and others were frustrated they didn’t have one more opportunity to compete for the win. Meanwhile, the winning team of Choate and DeSplinter were seemingly numb and stunned by what had happened.

The sophomore tandem was more than intimidated by the vastness of Toledo Bend when it was announced on the schedule, but they started the week with a plan to try to simply make the 2018 Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship. Not only did they survive and qualify, but they withstood the field after two days and were alone at the top of the leaderboard.

“This is our second event together as a team,” DeSplinter said. “It is unexplainable at the moment. We watch these events on TV and we dream of it, everyone does. But for everything to come together and to win; we may never experience this again.”

The duo fished on the south end of Toledo Bend and caught every fish, including their 10-pound kicker on Day 2 on a Strike King 5XD crankbait. Their main area was a swift drop in bottom contour off a grass flat. Their double-digit bass also took Big Bass honors for the week.

“Anglers were fishing too shallow and basically were on top of the fish, but they were focused on the grass,” Choate said. “Hunter found a perfect lineup, and we were able to run our crankbaits off the drop and it was incredible.”

This marks the University of Wisconsin-Platteville’s first Bassmaster College Series victory as a school and one that seemed inconceivable a few weeks ago for the team as they bested the 248-team field. Their miracle Day 2 weight carried them past the Day 1 leaders of Tyler Craig and Spencer Lambert of Louisiana-Monroe who weighed back-to-back 20-pound bags and found themselves just 5 ounces off the pace with 41-1.

“To finish in second place is great because our main goal was to make the national championship,” Craig said. “It was the right decision to cancel, but it does sting some because we wanted a shot to win today. It just wasn’t meant to be.”

Craig and Lambert claimed second at the 2017 Central Regional just down the road at Sam Rayburn Reservoir. Pair that with a great track record and a Top 12 at the 2017 national championship and this duo will be one to watch this summer once again.

Third place went to Caiden Sinclair and Hunter Gibson of the University of Alabama who jumped to the podium after catching 22-11 on Friday. They were roughly 3 pounds off the pace and were definitely in contention on Toledo Bend going into Saturday.

The Top 30 teams slated to compete on Saturday didn’t leave unrewarded as they clinched berths into the College Series National Championship, which will be announced at a later date. With the completion of the Central Tour on Toledo Bend, there are now three more Tour events for anglers to fish as well as their state qualifiers. The next Tour event is slated for Pickwick Lake in Florence, Ala., on April 19-21.