Great end to Young Harris teammates' college careers

MUSKEGON, Mich. — “We couldn’t have asked for anything better than this,” said Matthew Peeler, while standing on the boat fishing White Lake today.

Peeler is referring to the fact that he and his fishing partner, Brad Rutherford, are competing this weekend in the 2013 Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Classic Bracket after both graduating from Georgia’s Young Harris College in spring.

“This is the best ending to our time in college,” said Peeler.

Peeler and Rutherford led very different lives before the college bass fishing team turned them into fishing partners. Rutherford had competed in bass fishing for years, even coming in third in two Bassmaster Junior World Championships when he was in high school. But Peeler was a golfer, and he had never fished a tournament before.

“Brad and I lived together, and he got me into fishing,” said Peeler. “I didn’t know if I could juggle fishing and golf. But I did, and it was one of the best decisions I could have made.”

Rutherford and Peeler drove north from Georgia yesterday and are spending their time during the off-limits period fishing White Lake, where the pros in Toyota All-Star Week and Evan Williams Bourbon Championship will be competing this Sunday. And they’re adjusting to the weather.

“It was a rude awakening this morning when my phone said it was 39 degrees outside,” said Peeler, laughing. “As the week goes on, the weather will stabilize, and it should be in the 70s by this weekend.”

One thing Peeler and Rutherford both know is that this water, which is around 55 degrees, is not anything Rutherford wants to take a dive into. Rutherford fell out of the boat in the 2013 Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship in August, and it was all caught on camera.

“You can watch that over and over again,” said Peeler, who cracked up just thinking about Rutherford bobbing around in the warm water of the Chatuge Reservoir. “But he won’t want to do that here! The water’s freezing.”

The two young men are good friends, and they kid each other a lot. But there’s the potential they’ll have to fish against each other on Sunday, the final day of the Classic Bracket. If each of them wins his other match-ups, the two will be competing against each other for the spot in the 2014 Bassmaster Classic.

“It would be the greatest thing to happen to fish against each other,” said Rutherford.

“Yeah, that’s the goal,” said Peeler. “I’m going to be pumped if that happens.”

In the meantime, they’ll be working together. “Two heads are better than one,” said Peeler.

The pair had a home lake advantage for the national championship because it was held at their school. But now they're fishing an even playing field; none of the anglers have spent much time on Grand River.

Rutherford has a good deal of experience fishing Northern waters. “I’d just as soon fish up North as down South,” he said. Generally, though, he likes fishing deep, clear lakes, and in Michigan, he’ll have to fish grass and expects to be flipping a lot. Peeler has never fished up North before.

“But I’m a quick learner,” said Rutherford, “and so is Matthew. He’s come a long way in two years. Being on the college team is of the best experiences we’ve ever had. We’ve learned a lot.”

The Young Harris College teammates are also jazzed about competing for a Classic spot.

“We have a 1 out of 8 chance,” said Rutherford. “That’s hard to come by to get to the Classic.”

He’s right about that, and their odds will get better after every bracket match-up they win.

Rutherford and Peeler will get to fish Grand River beginning Wednesday, one of two official practice days before competition begins on Friday. They’ll have a better idea by Wednesday how well they’ll perform when it counts.

Stay tuned to between now and Sunday to see how all the anglers are doing on Grand River. Before long, after months of competition, we’ll all know who the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series representative will be at the Bassmaster Classic.

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