Hometown heroes ... and hopefuls

FLORENCE, Ala. -- After the dust settled on Day One of the Carhartt College Series Wild Card, 22-8 took the lead. However that lead belongs to two separate teams, Young Harris College’s Brad Rutherford and Matthew Peeler and University of North Alabama’s Andrew Nutt and Zachary Wiggers.

Interestingly enough, UNA’s campus sits roughly 5 miles from Lake Pickwick, the site of the Wild Card, and Young Harris College is the host school for the Carhartt College Series National Championship, which will be held on nearby Lake Chatuge.

After failing to qualify for the National Championship at the Southern Regional in January, Brad Rutherford and Matthew Peeler knew that Pickwick and the Wild Card were their last hope at representing their school on Chatuge. Holding the lead on Day One doesn’t ensure they’ll qualify, but it does take a lot of pressure off.

“It like a weight lifted off of my shoulders,” said Rutherford. “I spent so much time up here just because I know what I can do at Chatuge. It feels great for it to pay off.”

Statistically, Young Harris only has to finish in the top 13 tomorrow to qualify so the question is will they bunt and go for 13-14 pounds or keep swinging for the fences and try to win the Wild Card and subsequently the National Championship berth to boot.

“Not planning on laying up,” said Peeler. “It’s like qualifying for a golf tournament. You can two putt on 18 and make par and qualify or you can make birdie on 18 to win the whole thing. We’re going to try to make birdie tomorrow.”

Young Harris is playing the typical ledge fishing game. Their better bites came during two separate feeding windows. They caught three good fish in the first hour thanks to the early morning bite and culled twice late in the evening when the current was strongest.

“I got about 10 rods on the deck and I caught fish today on every single one of them,” said Rutherford.

The University of North Alabama’s Andrew Nutt and Zachary Wiggers are fishing a little more specifically for their share of the lead. Rotating through a swimbait and crankbait primarily, UNA probably culled the best 5 fish limit today.

“We probably culled a 17 or 18 pound limit,” said Nutt. “We’re catching some long-lining and some slow rolling a swimbait.”

“Long-lining” refers to making a cast, disengaging the reel and using your trolling motor to free spool a long portion of the line off. This is a technique that gained recent popularity when Jeremy Starks reintroduced it to the masses with his Elite Series win on Douglas Lake in 2012. This is completely legal as long as the angler doesn’t use the propulsion of his trolling motor or outboard to retrieve the bait. The advantage, a crankbait that only dives 15 to 18 feet on a normal cast can now reach depths around 40 feet.

“We didn’t long-line all day,” said Nutt. “We just had a few schools that went deeper due to all the boat pressure.”

Boat pressure was the main concern for most teams including UNA on Day One. Boats lined the river ledges as far as you could see and as soon as one boat would pull off a spot, another would take its place. Several times today the new arrival wouldn’t even wait for the current occupant to leave, making for some interesting moments on the water.

The bad news is, boat pressure will only increase tomorrow with the typical weekend anglers and other tournament fishermen. UNA is hoping to overcome that with an ace in the hole.

“We culled all our fish on one school we found today and we’re hoping we can get on that school tomorrow,” said Nutt.

Bethel’s Jacob Hardy and Jake Lawrence sit in 3rd with 21-7 on Day One. Hailing from the shores of Kentucky Lake, Hardy and Lawrence feel right at home on Pickwick’s ledges.

“Ledge fishing is definitely our strong suit and Pickwick fishes just like Kentucky Lake except a little bit deeper in places,” said Hardy.

A swimbait and a spoon have been the bread and butter for Bethel so far this week and they’re hoping they can stick to that combo through tomorrow.

“We probably caught 75 keepers today,” said Lawrence. “But we only had 6 that were good quality bites, over 4-pounds. You have to weed through all those little ones to find one of those bigger ones.”

Mike and Nick Huff of Georgetown College sit on the National Championship qualification bubble in 13th place on Day One with 16-4. There are 8 teams less than 2 pounds behind them and those teams are eager to still that spot away.

Brad Rutherford and Matthew Peeler of Young Harris College also took the Day One Carhartt Big Bass honors with their 6-3 brute.

Teams will launch at McFarland Park tomorrow at 6:15 AM CT, with the Day Two weigh-in also at McFarland Park starting at 2:30 PM CT. Coverage of Day Two will feature a live video stream from the weigh-in, photo galleries, BASSCam videos, the Bass Blog and stories on bassmaster.com. For more information concerning the event, please click here.

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