Graduation gift for Miller and Billingsley

Editor's Note: See the Final Results for the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Central Super Regional.

WAGONER, Okla. — Today was to have been the day for Mook Miller and Kyle Billingsley to walk across the stage of Bud Walton Arena and receive their undergraduate diplomas at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.

Instead, the two Arkansans walked across the B.A.S.S. weigh-in stage on the shoreline of Oklahoma’s Fort Gibson Lake and received their winner’s trophies at the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Central Super Regional.

Miller and Billingsley won the tournament after weighing the final day’s biggest catch of 13 pounds, 14 ounces. They added that weight to yesterday’s catch of 14-3 for an overall weight of 28-1.

“Hopefully all of our professors and family members will forgive us because this was worth it,” said Miller, 22, a communications graduate. “Today at 1:30 we were supposed to be walking for graduation and we missed the commencement ceremony.”

And what were they thinking about at 1:30 p.m.?

“We were thinking about how many fish we needed to put into the boat to win,” quipped Billingsley, 21, a business graduate.

It was only the Arkansans team’s second trip to Fort Gibson, even though the lake is located less than 100 miles from the campus. A strategy came together after a classic post-spawn pattern of textbook scenarios fell into place.

Midway through the first competition day and with an empty livewell the team stopped their boat in an area of private boat docks located near creek channels.

A pattern showed signs of life when Miller caught a 14-inch keeper after pitching a wacky-rigged 6-inch watermelon red Yum Dinger worm around the wooden pilings. Billingsley responded by casting a chartreuse/black XCalibur Square Lip crankbait parallel down the sides of the piers and burning the lure back to the boat.

The team went on the hunt to locate similar docks positioned near 20 feet of water. More keepers were caught and a strategy was in place.

The ideal selection of baits proved irresistible to the finicky post-spawn fish they encountered during the competition. The slow, tantalizing action of the falling worm rig and the getaway-speed retrieve of the crankbait triggered reflex strikes of bass already feeding on shad swimming in the nearby channels.

Arkanas Tech’s Jordan Mullenix and Evan Smith came in second place with an overall weight of 26 pounds. The layout of Fort Gibson’s upper reaches ideally suited the team’s competitive strengths.

“River fishing is more our style so we focused up the river,” said Mullenix, 21, an emergency management major from Mount Ida. “We like shallow, dirty water and we found it up there after all the rain.”

The team put those strengths into play by searching for stretches of the Grand River holding a steady current. They correctly surmised partly sunny skies would keep the fish holding tight to underwater habitat. That was found in the form of isolated stretches of rocky shorelines. 

The team’s key bait during sunny conditions was an 8-inch black/blue Havoc Juice Worm rigged Texas style with a ¼-ounce sinker. Strikes came as the rig bounced into the rocky crevices as the anglers hopped the lure downstream with the current.

The effort produced a first-day limit weighing 13-3 that landed the team in 7th place. The catch was anchored by Smith’s largemouth weighing 5-10 that proved to be the biggest bass of the tournament.

A changeup was necessary on the final day after overnight rainfall made the daytime skies turn overcast. The fish abandoned the rocky habitat and dispersed to an underwater ridge to feed on shad.

The new lure of choice was a baby bass color Heddon Super Spook Junior topwater plug. Smith made long casts with the minnow imitator across the flat where the bass were breaking the surface as they fed on the shad. The effort produced a limit weighing 12-12 that moved the Arkansans into second place.

Smith scored his second Carhartt Big Bass Award of the season with the 5-10 largemouth caught at Fort Gibson. He also won the award after landing a 9-pounder at the South Super Regional held on Lake Guntersville, Ala.

The Central Super Regional is one of four qualifying events toward the Carhartt College Series National Championship. The championship will determine the berth reserved for the top college bass angler at the 2013 Bassmaster Classic.

The next event is the Carhartt Midwest Super Regional, May 18-19, in La Crosse, Wis.