Tennessee Vols take lead on Watts Bar

SPRING CITY, Tenn. — The University of Tennessee’s Tyler Wadzinski and Matt Beeler might want to go searching area boat dealerships tonight for Austin Neary and Zachary Hicks.

That’s because their fate could be influenced by the emerging bad luck, or not, of the team from Western North Carolina. An otherwise conservative 20-pound day for Neary and Hicks was ruined by motor trouble. The team weighed 16 pounds of bass before loading their disabled boat for a trip to a mechanic.

Meanwhile, Wadzinski and Beeler weighed 16 pounds, 5 ounces to take the slim lead after Day 1 of the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Eastern Regional.

The Vols completed their limit at 11 a.m. and then went searching for new water. Wadzinski and Beeler live only an hour’s drive away from their campus. Even so they’ve only made a collective six trips to Watts Bar Reservoir.

That’s partially due to their recently awarded degrees. Wadzinski got his in Biochemical Cellular Molecular Biology (BCMB). Beeler has a degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Science. The study time no doubt cut into their fishing.

“It did but we’re pretty confident in what we have going on here,” said Beeler. “We didn’t see any boats doing what we are on the lake.”

What that might be remains a secret. The team admitted to catching bass shallow and deep. In the latter case around 8 feet, which is still shallow by how the prevailing offshore patterns are evolving.

“We decided early on that we had either the choice to fish conservatively and try to make the (national) championship or swing for the fence and win this tournament,” added Wadzinski.

Good thing they did. So did Western Carolina’s Neary and Hicks. They gambled and ran far up lake. Taking a short cut through a canal as a timesaver proved nearly disastrous.

The boat struck bottom and nearly destroyed the outboard’s lower unit and severely bent the ears of the high performance prop. Somehow, the team pressed on and arrived at their intended destination.

The perseverance paid off with the limit. Then their luck changed.

“At the boat we had what easily was a ten pounder,” said Hicks. “It came off right in front of us.”

The fish was close enough to splash both anglers with water before disappearing into the depths of the lake.

“We still feel pretty good about what we’re doing,” said Neary. “We’ve just got to get the motor fixed for tomorrow.”

The Carhartt Eastern regional is part of BASSfest, a weeklong tournament featuring 107 Elite Series pros and 33 top anglers from the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens Series presented by Allstate.

Tomorrow marks a first for this collegiate format. The college anglers weigh their catches on the same scales and stage used by the Bassmaster Elite Series pros. Some of them will be spectators after making the top 50 cut leading up to this weekend’s championship round.

Lots of prizes are up for grabs at tomorrow’s collegiate final round. The Carhartt Big Bass award worth $500 goes to the team weighing the heaviest bass. The winning team receives the Livingston Lures Leader award, worth $500 in Livingston products. The Bass Pro Nitro Big Bag award of $250 goes to the single-day heaviest weight.

Follow the final day of competition on Watts Bar at Bassmaster.com. You’ll find a live blog and photo galleries leading up to the weigh-in at 4 p.m. EDT at the BASSfest venue. The location is 175 Lakeshore Dr. in Dayton.

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