DECATUR, Ill. — University of Illinois student Justin Kaszuba says Lake Shelbyville is one of the state’s best bass fishing lakes — under normal conditions.
Fishing was abnormally tough over the weekend as Kaszuba and his college fishing team partner, Luke Stoner, were only able to catch two bass in a day-long tournament among college anglers Sunday. But those two fish were enough to win the bragging rights in the Illinois College B.A.S.S. Bash, which was held in conjunction with the second annual Toyota Trucks All-Star Week in Decatur.
“Shelbyville is a great lake,” said Kaszuba, a senior majoring in psychology and history. “It had a rough showing this week, but there are a lot of good fish here if you know how to find them and how to catch them. It’s just been a hot summer with difficult conditions.”
The dozen All-Star pros competing on Shelbyville Thursday and Friday would take issue with that analysis. In two days of fishing, some of the best professional anglers in the country were unable to catch more than one fish a day.
It was even more of a challenge for the six teams from Illinois colleges, many of which were unable to catch a “keeper” bass over the minimum length of 14 inches.
Kaszuba and Stoner, who also competed in the Carhartt College Series Midwest Super Regional in May, weighed in 3 pounds, 5 ounces for the two bass, both caught by Stoner. Both fish hit between 8 and 8:30 a.m.
“It was rough out there,” Stoner said. “We only had two keeper bites. The rest were walleye and white bass.”
Stoner, a fish and wildlife major, says he “got lucky” by catching both of the team’s bass using a square-bill crankbait. One of the keepers was caught where shad were busting off a point. The other was caught just off a wood laydown.
“We tried everything out there,” said Stoner, a sophomore majoring in fish and wildlife major. “We tried fishing deep or shallow. We were running up and down — just trying to grind it out. It was just slow. After 11, we didn’t catch anything. All the pros know how tough the fishing has been here.”
Stoner attributes the nearly nonexistent bite to a combination of factors — wind conditions, high skies and a high pressure system.
The Western Illinois University team of Tim Himsl, a communications major, and Cass Waddle, a wildlife conservation and management major, took second place at the competition. They brought two largemouth bass to the scales for a total of 3 pounds.
Like the college champs, they got an early bite, then spent the rest of the day waiting for the occasional unproductive nibble.
“We caught our first keeper within in the first hour, and the second half an hour later, then it just shut off,” Himsl said. “It was tough, but we knew it would be from watching the pros. All of our time pre-fishing was just watching them. We’re pretty proud of our two fish.”
Himsl, a senior, was primarily fishing reaction baits, alternating between a crankbait and jerkbait, when he caught the team’s first bass.
Freshman Waddle was trying plastic crawfish and jigs when he caught the team’s second bass half an hour later.
The two learned only two weeks ago they would be fishing in the Carhartt Bassmaster College competition. Neither had fished Lake Shelbyville, but they both knew their work was cut out for them.
“It was rough, but it was a really good opportunity for us,” Himsl said.
Also competing in the tournament were Cody Sullivan and Jake Jagust of the University of Illinois; Matthew Sells and Conrad Keefe of the University of Illinois; Brock Phillips and Devon Loftus of the University of Illinois; Brian Souza and Jake Bouldin of Illinois State University; Steve Jurgens and David Haag of Illinois State University; Chris Walter and Anthony Cancelli of Illinois State University; Bryce Wegman and Kyle Shevlin of Illinois State University; Dominik DiNovo and Aaron Porterfield of Southern Illinois University, Carbondale; Jon Dye and Gage Elder of Southern Illinois University, Carbondale; Kyle Szychilinski and Philip Germaglotti of Southern Illinois University, Carbondale; Oliver Burnett and Joey Gallagher of Southern Illinois University, Carbondale; Steve McClone and A.J. Martineck of Northern Illinois University; and Dan Martin and Tyler McCune of Western Illinois University.