CULLMAN, Ala. – J T Russell and Porter James aren’t catching many bass on Lewis Smith Lake this week during the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series tournament presented by Bass Pro Shops.
But the duo from the University of Montevallo (Ala.) is proving that success must be judged by the quality, and not necessarily the quantity, of the catch.
Russell and James caught a five-bass limit today that weighed a tournament-high 20 pounds, 9 ounces, which gave them a two-day total of 38-10 and more than a 4-pound cushion over the other 11 duos that survived today’s cut from 250 to 12 teams.
It’s a fairly remarkable total, given that Russell and James only caught seven keeper bass today. They had a similar output Thursday, on Day 1 of the tournament, when they weighed an 18-1 limit despite going more than three hours before catching their first bass.
“It’s not like we’re catching a bunch,” Russell said. “We’re having to work for everything we get. But it’s worked out so far because when we get bit, it’s generally been a big one.”
Smith Lake is just more than an hour's drive north of Montevallo, so Russell and James are familiar with the fishery. They apparently haven’t found a honey hole of note, however, as they’ve crisscrossed the 21,000-acre lake numerous times in search of the best bites.
Russell said he and James are “junk fishing,” and they had as many as 15 rods on the deck at one point today. That’s fitting, given that many anglers report having to change fishing techniques at least once as Smith Lake bass apparently are beginning to spawn.
Today, Russell caught the biggest bass of the event so far – a 6-7 largemouth that leads the Carhartt Big Bass standings. That fish followed a 6-pound largemouth James boated on Thursday. They’ve caught two of the tournament’s three heaviest bass.
“That big one today bit about 5 feet from the boat,” Russell said. “I set the hook and all I could do then was scream, ‘Get the net!’ I ended up boat flipping it because it was right there before I even knew it."
After catching a mixed bag of spotted and largemouth bass Thursday, Russell and James caught all largemouth today. Feeling no lead is big enough, the Montevallo tandem said they plan to go for broke on the third and final day of the tournament.
“We’re at the point that it’s either zero or hero,” James said. “We’re going to swing for the fences.”
Day 1 leaders Lucas Murphy and Mitchell Gunn of Michigan’s Grand Valley State University dropped to second place overall with a 34-5 two-day total. They held a 12-ounce lead on Russell and James Thursday, but fell behind with a 15-8 limit on Friday.
Trevor McKinney and Ethan Jones of McKendree University in Illinois are in third place (32-0 overall;) and Derek Freeman and Caleb Algood of Clemson are fourth with 31-5.
Cal Culpepper and Mason Waddell, who also fish for Montevallo, had the second heaviest bag of the day – a 20-5 limit that was anchored by a 6-6 largemouth. That bag vaulted them into fifth place with 30 pounds through two days. They were the biggest movers of the day after being in 97th place following Thursday’s weigh-in.
Rounding out the top 12 teams that will fish Saturday are, Dax Ewart/KJ Queen, Bethel University, Tenn., sixth with 27-12; Jason Felter/Joseph McClosky, Bethel University, seventh with 27-8; Luke Lamb/Wilson Smith, Bethel University, eighth with 27-6; Nolan Minor/Casey Lanier, West Virginia, ninth with 27-3; Joshua Gruen/Riley Blair, University of Wisconsin-Platteville, 10th with 26-12; Trevor St. John/Bailey Fain, Bryan College, Tenn.,11th with 26-11; and Aaron Denny/Williams Mathews, Grand Valley State, 12th with 26-3.
The 12 remaining teams will take off from Smith Lake Park at 7 a.m. Saturday. Teams will check in at the park at 3 p.m. with final weigh-in taking place at nearby Wallace State Community College. Live coverage will begin at approximately 3:45 p.m. on Bassmaster.com.
The dozen remaining teams will split a pool of $8,500 cash for their respective bass fishing teams. The winning duo will earn $2,500 for their school’s squad.
Teams from 74 different schools and 28 states began the tournament Thursday. The top 25 teams in the tournament standings after today automatically qualified for the Bassmaster College Series Championship which will be held this year on a fishery to be disclosed later.
The tournament on Smith Lake is being hosted by the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce.