DAYTON, Tenn. – It’s been said that a person’s character is best determined by how he or she handles adversity.
With that in mind, Bryan College anglers Cole Sands and Conner Dimauro earned a few fans in April when competing in a Carhartt Bassmaster College Series presented by Bass Pro Shops tournament at Arkansas’ Bull Shoals Lake.
Sands and Dimauro held the lead after Day 1 of that tournament, but realized sometime on Day 2 that they had unknowingly violated a B.A.S.S. rule that prohibits receiving information about finding or catching bass during official practice or competition. The duo, despite being in prime position to win that event, self-reported the violation to Hank Weldon, the B.A.S.S. College Series Senior Tournament Director.
Weldon stuck to the rulebook and disqualified Sands and Dimauro.
Both anglers, Weldon said, handled themselves with dignity and were respectful of the decision, though there was no definitive determination the information they received particularly aided them in the tournament.
“They did the right thing,” Weldon said Thursday after the opening round of the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship presented by Bass Pro on Tennessee’s Lake Chickamauga.
“It was honorable,” Weldon continued. “We told them that, and we appreciated them bringing it to us. But the rule is the rule and in the end, there are no exceptions.”
Sands and Dimauro are at the top of the leaderboard again, but this time at the prestigious national championship event. The pair bagged a limit of five bass on Thursday for a Day-1 total of 24 pounds, 9 ounces which was more than 2 pounds better than the nearest opponents. The difference-maker was Sands’ kicker bass which weighed 7-15 and provided them enough bump to lead the field of 116 teams gathered here from around the U.S.
The Bryan College anglers have a deep knowledge of Chickamauga, which literally is located across the street from their school in the City of Dayton. It’s a home-water edge which both Sands and Dimauro said obviously is beneficial to their hopes of winning of a national championship.
“I spend my time out here,” Sands said after the Day 1 weigh-in at Dayton Municipal Park. “It’s not a coincidence, and I’m not gonna’ deny we were blessed today. But we had a really tough practice and didn’t know what we’d catch. We thought we could catch about 15 pounds and that was about it.”
That 7-15 tied for the second-heaviest bass on Day 1, and they’ll be in search of more big bites like it on Friday. With the possibility of trophy catches swimming in Chickamauga’s waters, Sands and Dimauro know they may need another mule to make the cut to 12 and fish for a title on Saturday.
“We culled a bigger bag today than we had all of practice,” Dimauro said. “But as tough as conditions were for us, we saved a lot of stuff.”
Perhaps ironically, the team that currently sits in second place at the national championship is the team that wound up winning the regular-season tournament at Bull Shoals.
Carter McNeil and Cole Floyd of Bethel University (located in McKenzie, Tenn.) caught a limit that weighed 22-6 on Thursday. That was good enough for the lead throughout most of Thursday’s weigh-in, but they relinquished the top spot to Sands and Dimauro late in the day.
Nearly half the field (60 of 116 teams) weighed a limit on Thursday. The Big Bass of the Tournament so far belongs to Brandon Mann of Arkansas Tech. He and teammate Hunter Bryant weighed an 8-2 lunker at the tail end of Thursday’s weigh-in, proving again the presence of trophy bass beneath Chickamauga’s surface.
Anglers blasted off beginning at 6:40 a.m. ET Friday. The Day 2 weigh-in is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m.
Bryan College, the City of Dayton and Fish Dayton are hosting the national championship.