ANDERSON, S.C. — After a five-month layoff, the Catawba Valley Community College fishing program opened the third stop of the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series at Lake Hartwell presented by Bass Pro Shops with a bang as two Red Hawks teams led the 115-boat field after Day 1 on Thursday.
Jeremy Dellinger and Nathan Smith hold the top spot after dropping a three-bass limit of 11 pounds, 9 ounces on the scales. They hold a 1-4 pound lead over teammates Lane Bailey and Adam Seagle.
The teams from the two-year college with an enrollment of 4,610 in Hickory, N.C., combined to weigh in six largemouth bass, passing on the spotted bass that Lake Hartwell is known for.
“It’s crazy,” Dellinger said. “We are just a little community college competing against the best fishing colleges in the country. Here we are, one and two (in the standings), a little community college leading the most prestigious tournament trail in college fishing. It’s insane."
For Dellinger and Smith, the deep bite never materialized during practice, so they moved to shallow water and found an area that produced some fish that Dellinger thought would give them 7 to 8 pounds a day.
To their surprise, the area produced excellent quality.
“One of our biggest fish came up schooling in the middle of a pocket within throwing range,” Dellinger said. “It was one of those things that just happened to go right. And to do well in a tournament, you need some things to go right.”
A Lake Norman native, Dellinger said he isn’t sure if they can catch the same quality for the next two days but feels he has enough to stay near the top.
“If I can manage my fish the right way, I might be able to stretch it for three days,” he said. “But, I will need a couple of those luscious fish like I caught today.”
Bailey, a Lake Hickory native, said he and Seagle made a 15- to 20-minute run up the Tugaloo River where they caught mostly largemouth bass with a topwater bait around shallow cover.
While all of the fish they weighed were over 2 1/2 pounds for a total of 10-5, Bailey and Seagle missed a couple of key fish that would have given them a substantial lead.
“We had marked a bunch of areas in practice, and (Seagle) actually caught a 7-pounder on one of these banks. We went back to that bank today and the 7-pounder bit a topwater and I missed it. Then we lost one about 8 pounds. We should have had like 17 pounds.
“We missed five blow-ups on the topwater this morning, and we thought the day was over. But we just kept with it.”
Bailey and Seagle struggled to catch fish during their first 2 1/2 days of practice but stumbled upon some quality fish midway through the third day. That clued them in to a pattern Bailey believes can hold up for two more days.
Higher-than-normal water on Hartwell has helped the bite, Bailey said, but if the water drops he and Seagle’s bite may get tougher.
This week's tournament at Lake Hartwell was originally scheduled for the end of March following the first two tour stops at Toledo Bend in January and Smith Lake in February, but the COVID-19 pandemic brought the season to a screeching halt. After an extended layoff, Thursday’s blastoff was a special moment for Bailey.
“When they started playing music right before blastoff, I got goosebumps,” he said. “Not many people in the country get to do this stuff, and we are blessed to get to do it.”
The move to a late-summer event threw another curveball for the anglers, as the decision was made to change the limit from five fish to three to ensure the health of the fish and fishery. With the three-fish limit, Bailey said largemouth are the key to success, despite the healthy spotted bass population.
“In a three-fish deal, you aren’t going to win it with spotted bass,” he said.
Grant Adams and Wil Rigdon from Campbellsville University in Kentucky claimed third place on Day 1 with a limit weighing 10-2, trailing the leaders by a little less than 1 1/2 pounds. The Clemson University duo of GL Compton and Matthew Sprouse sit in fourth with 10-1 — a limit that was anchored by a 5-14 largemouth that gave them Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the day.
The full field will take off Friday at 6:45 a.m. ET from Green Pond Landing. The weigh-in will be held back at Green Pond at 2:45 p.m. The Top 12 teams after Friday’s weigh-in will compete on Championship Saturday and will earn a spot in the 2020 National Championship to be held on the Harris Chain of Lakes in Florida Oct. 29-31.
The event is being hosted by Visit Anderson.