COLUMBIANA, Ala. — McKendree University teammates Trevor McKinney and Blake Jackson and University of North Alabama teammates Cole Thompson and Benson Dowler all secured individual victories in the first round of the Carhartt Bassmaster College Classic Bracket presented by Bass Pro Shops on a stingy Lay Lake Tuesday afternoon, securing spots in the semifinal round of the elimination-style tournament.
McKinney had the biggest catch of the day with a mixed bag of 12 pounds, 4 ounces and defeated Bryan College senior and 2020 Bassmaster College Series champion Conner DiMauro, who caught the second-highest weight of the day with 11-12.
“The Lord blessed me today with guidance,” McKinney said. “There was a bait laying in the rod locker I never even thought I would throw and I tied it on and caught every fish I weighed on it.”
After finding quality fish under similar conditions during the only day of official practice, McKinney was expecting the fishing to be much better. But after finding little success in the areas where he practiced, McKinney scrapped his game plan and found quality fish in a new section of Lay Lake.
“At the halftime break, I had two fish for about a pound,” McKinney said. “I fished hard until about noon. It wasn’t going how I planned it. I scrapped it all and just went fishing. I found an area that is supergood. It has a lot of fish in it and I milked it.”
With 15 minutes left, McKinney landed a 4-pound largemouth that anchored his bag and gave him the advantage over DiMauro.
“Conner and Cole (Sands) are both phenomenal fishermen. I knew coming into it if I could beat either of them, I would have a good chance to win this tournament. It was very nerve-wracking because, at the halftime break, Conner had four fish for 9 pounds. I knew it was going to be close.”
McKinney will take on Dowler in the semifinal round after Dowler secured 7-11 to defeat Georgia Southern University’s Ty Black.
Thompson advanced to the second round with 7-12, beating Georgia Southern’s Avry Thomason, who caught 6-1. After spending most of his practice day running and evaluating the lake, Thompson said he didn’t know what to expect when he began fishing.
“I really wasn’t sure what I had or where I was going to catch my fish,” he said. “I was just hoping that the areas I thought looked right were going to pay off. I had a good little flurry this morning.”
During practice, Thompson had not seen any schooling fish, but around 9:30 a.m. in a main-lake pocket, he found feeding fish and caught four bass in about 10 minutes with a crankbait. About an hour later, right before the halftime break, Thompson caught his biggest fish of the day, a 2-6 spotted bass.
While he battled trolling motor problems the rest of the day, Thompson found a secondary area he hopes can produce quality largemouth Wednesday.
“I had two big bites and I missed both of them,” he added.
Thompson will match up against Jackson on Day 2. Jackson caught 7-1 to narrowly beat Bryan College senior Cole Sands by 7 ounces.
“I thought the weights were pretty high today compared to how yesterday was looking,” Thompson said. “I’m going to have to keep catching them to beat these boys. I’m going to have to grind tomorrow and try to make the bites that I get count.”
The final four anglers will take off from Beeswax Landing Wednesday at 6:30 a.m. CT and fish until 3 p.m. The two winners of the head-to-head matchups will advance to the final day and compete for a spot in the 2021 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk.
Discover Shelby County, AL is hosting the event.