Jordan Lee’s Classic destiny

Shaye Baker reminisces on his years as a college angler at Auburn University fishing alongside Jordan Lee, champion of the 2013 Carhartt College Series Bassmaster Classic Bracket.

It was the summer of 2009, and I was about to start my senior year at Auburn University. For three years, I had been a part of something special at Auburn, the birth and beginnings of the Auburn University Bass Fishing Team. A lot of good friends and good fishermen came together to start something special there. Collegiate bass fishing was a new creature on the rise, and we loved every minute of it.

That summer I met a kid that I had heard a lot about. It was a new “recruit” that our bass team was after. A high school kid from Cullman, Ala., that couldn’t have weighed 140 pounds soaking wet. But this kid could fish. He’d won most of what you could win for a guy his age and had even started making a name for himself in the Weekend Series ranks with a couple wins on his home lake of Guntersville. At 18 he had slain some of the biggest local sticks on what was, at that time, the best and most popular lake in the country.

As the newly appointed president of the Auburn University Bass Fishing Team, I stopped by to help out with a local high school tournament and meet this prodigy face to face. His name was Jordan Lee; and although he didn’t win that day, I knew, as a club, we definitely did.

I saw the potential in Jordan right away and I coerced him into a plan that I had hatched. You see, at Auburn you had to compete for your spot on the traveling team within the university’s bass team, which consisted of 25 to 30 anglers. Each semester, we’d hold a series of club qualifiers with the most consistent anglers of the semester qualifying for intercollegiate competition.

So I posed the idea to Jordan that if we could finish first and second in the club, we’d be able to fish the 2010 season together and have our pick of whatever intercollegiate tournaments we wanted to fish. As fate would have it, he and I finished the fall semester on top separated by a mere two points.

Our first tournament of the year was the College Fishing qualifier on Lake Okeechobee. It was one of the first days we’d ever spent in a boat together, and we had to finish in the top 5 to advance to the regional championship. This was our only shot, as the rest of the top 8 from the club qualifiers would be competing in the remaining College Fishing qualifiers. As fate would have it, we won.

Eight months later came the Regional Championship in the fall of 2010. Again we had to finish in the top 5. We finished 3rd and advanced to the National Championship where we placed 3rd again, missing a spot in the Forrest Wood Cup by a mere 2 pounds. That close call marked the end of my college career and was only the first step of Jordan Lee’s.

As our partnership wound down, Jordan had started another with a young power fisherman from Dothan, Ala., in the summer of 2010. Shane Powell had joined the club at Auburn and become good friends with Jordan. Jordan and Shane asserted themselves early, finishing 7th in one of their first turns at bats as a team in the 2010 Bassmaster College Series National Championship.

In 2011, Jordan and Shane finished an agonizing 2nd place to Stephen F. Austin in the Bassmaster College Series National Championship. Per the format at the time, the two members of the winning team had a head to head fish-off for the inaugural Bassmaster Classic berth, the first Classic Berth ever awarded to an angler from the college ranks. But as fate would have it, it was not their time.  

The Carhartt College Series season of 2012 saw a brief interlude in the Lee/Powell dynamic. Only one thing could come between a bond so strongly forged on water – blood. Jordan’s older brother, Matt Lee, had transferred to Auburn University to join the Auburn Bass Fishing Team and take part in what was happening there. And, as anyone could understand, the Lee brothers wanted to give it a go as teammates.

What Peyton and Eli were to college football, Jordan and Matt would inevitably become to the sport of college bass fishing. The two brothers made their way to the Carhartt College Series National Championship where Auburn came up just short of a national title once again, finishing 2nd by a little more than 2 pounds.

However, there was no time to hang their heads or any real reason just yet. Even though it would be another year before Jordan and Matt could contend for the national title again, there was something as sweet if not sweeter still at stake. This year, the top 4 teams had a shot at the Bassmaster Classic berth. In the course of the next two days, eight anglers competed as individuals in a single elimination bracket; and when the dust finally settled, Jordan and Matt were the last two standing.

In what had to be one of the most gut wrenching competitions in college sports history, brother was pitted against brother for the Classic berth. Each knew that they would have to break the other’s heart in order to achieve their dream. In order for there to be winners, there have to be losers. And that is a terrible thing.

After more than a week of enduring 100-degree weather on the water, an emotionally and physically drained Jordan Lee watched as his brother edged him out for the spot in the Bassmaster Classic. Once again, Jordan had come so close but close isn’t the Classic. As fate would have it, it wasn’t Jordan’s time.

Matt Lee went on to compete in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic on Grand Lake. Jordan sat in the stands and cheered his brother on as earnestly as he could. He was truly happy for his brother. But bittersweet doesn’t begin to describe what lie in the pit of his stomach. The Classic was something Jordan had wanted from an early age. As soon as he was of age to truly yearn for something, the Classic was the object of his desire. To watch Matt relish in the moment was something like having to watch your brother kiss the girl of your dreams and then give him a pat on the back and a “that a boy.” It wasn’t easy.

So it was understandable when Jordan opted out of the Lee brother partnership for the 2013 College Series season. There were no hard feelings. It just felt right to move on and reconnect with longtime college partner and best friend Shane Powell.  Both Shane and Jordan were seniors, and they had come too far together not to finish their college careers as a team.

Matt Lee paired up with good friend Chris Seals to fish the 2013 season together and so the year began. Matt and Chris, also seniors, hit a homerun at the season opener on the Harris Chain of Lakes, qualifying early for the 2013 Carhartt College Series National Championship to be held later that summer. Jordan and Shane fell short. There would only be one other opportunity for the two to qualify, the Wild Card. But Jordan and Shane would have to wait patiently for 5 months for the last shot.

The Wild Card came along on Pickwick, and they made it with ease finishing in 3rd place and qualifying for the 2013 National Championship. Jordan and Shane fell short of the national title once again finishing 3rd, but their finish locked them into the Classic Bracket to be held a month later. Matt Lee and Chris Seals finished 5th, missing qualification for the bracket by only one spot.

On September 27, 2013, Jordan Lee started the bracket off in grand fashion with over 15 pounds to win his matchup for the day by nearly 14 pounds. For the time being, fate was on his side.

Meanwhile, on the other end of the bracket, Shane Powell won his matchup with 9 1/2 pounds, nearly 3 times the weight of his opponent.

For the first time, we started to realize that the way the bracket was laid out, there was a chance to see another head to head matchup between the two Auburn teammates. But both would have to win in order for that to happen. No one said it out loud at first for fear that just uttering the words might somehow bring about such an unbearable event. However, minds began to wonder…

On the second round of the bracket, Jordan again handily overtook his opponent with 10 pounds, twice the weight of his competitor. Jordan seemed to be a man possessed. Cool, calm and collected on the outside but on fire for the win on the inside. He sat just one more day of competition away from his end goal, the Bassmaster Classic. To make for a more poetic story, this Classic would be on his home lake of Guntersville.

Now it was time to see who he would be competing against. Shane Powell, Jordan’s longtime friend and fishing partner, eliminated his competitor by a margin of 3 pounds. Against all odds it would be Auburn versus Auburn yet again. Brother versus brother from another mother. 

This time, however, there was a certain feeling in the air. A scenario that not even the greatest writer could fathom. No script could be written to create more drama. It just seemed destined that Jordan Lee would win. Not to say that Shane didn’t deserve it. Not that Shane hadn’t earned it. Not that he hadn’t yearned for the same things that Jordan had.

But there’s a saying that is used all too often and all the more true. When it’s your time, it’s your time. Nothing can stop fate nor interfere with destiny. As we stood on the ramp awaiting take-off for the final round, one could almost feel the stars aligning in Jordan’s favor. Too much had led up to this moment for their to be any other outcome.

A year earlier, one brother had to watch another walk away with his girl. The girl he thought he was meant to be with. But then, in a strange turn of events, his true love came along. The Bassmaster Classic on Lake Guntersville. Never has there been or will there ever be a better-suited event for Jordan Lee.

In the final round of competition, Shane Powell gave it all he had. He didn’t lie down. He didn’t concede the victory simply because he knew what it would mean to Jordan. Because Shane also knew what it would mean to himself. And he knew that if he didn’t give it his all he’d regret it for the rest of his life. I rode with Shane on the final day as his cameraman; and let me tell you something, Shane, you have nothing to regret.

Despite his best efforts, fate wasn’t with Shane on Day 3. The day belonged to Jordan Lee. Jordan brought in 12 pounds even – enough to eliminate Shane and leave Jordan as the lone angler standing. On September 29, 2013, in his last event as a college angler, Jordan Lee won his date with destiny. Jordan Lee will be competing in the 2014 Bassmaster Classic on Lake Guntersville. As I type these words, I can see him reading them and a chill shooting up his spine.

Jordan, it’s finally your time. Fate is on your side. Your destiny awaits you. You may not win the Classic. But you damn well might. And I can honestly say it’s been one of the greatest honors of my personal fishing career to have shared the boat with you. Congrats on an awesome college career, and I look forward to being there to congratulate you for many years to come.