Editor's Note: Day 3 was cancelled due to heavy fog. The leaders from Day 2 are the winners.
MANY, La. — Toledo Bend showed its true colors Friday at the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Central Tour presented by Bass Pro Shops. After only one 20-pound bag was weighed on the first day of competition, nine teams eclipsed that mark on Friday.
Conner Choate and Hunter DeSplinter of the University of Wisconsin-Platteville stole the show as they brought 25 pounds, 9 ounces, to the stage, climbing into the lead with 41-6. Their day was anchored by a monster catch -- a kicker that tipped the scales at 10 pounds.
It not only was DeSplinter’s personal best, but it was also recognized as an elite catch by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
“We showed up to our first spot just looking to get a limit in the 11- to 12-pound range,” DeSplinter said. “We had that before 8:30 a.m., so we just kept fishing around and working hard.”
After catching 15-13 on Day 1, just a solid limit would have helped their chances greatly. But what happened after their initial limit is now an unforgettable memory for this duo.
“At 10 a.m., I hooked into the 10-pounder,” DeSplinter said. “I had never seen a fish so big. It jumped at the boat; I for sure thought I was going to lose it, but we didn’t.”
The fireworks were just beginning as they gathered themselves and continued fishing. They hit a few nearby spots and caught keepers that wouldn’t help their overall weight, so they returned to the spot that produced earlier.
“We returned to that spot and immediately caught a fish close to 7 pounds,” DeSplinter said. “We packed up and headed back to the ramp to ensure the giant fish survived.”
The duo is now preparing to fend off 29 other teams during Saturday’s final day of competition. Coming into the event, their mindset was focused on qualifying for the National Championship. But now they have a chance to take home the title of the inaugural Central Tour format.
“We had no expectations leaving the dock (Friday),” Choate said. “So, we need to keep that same mindset because everything can change so quickly.”
Behind Wisconsin-Platteville are Thursday’s leaders Tyler Craig and Spencer Lambert of the University of Louisiana at Monroe. The duo slipped to second place, but eclipsed the 20-pound mark for the second consecutive day, the only team to accomplish that in the 248-boat field.
“It’s extremely important to stay consistent on Toledo Bend,” said Craig, whose team has a two-day weight of 41-1. “You can catch up in a hurry with a big bag, but at the same time you can stumble and fall if you rely on a giant bite each day.”
Craig and Lambert have landed five and six keepers, respectively, the last two days, and both days have featured crucial catches just before check-in. But they know they are targeting quality and may not need quantity to win.
“It’s not easy fishing for a handful of bites, but I feel like the bigger fish are trickling into our area,” Craig said. “It seems like our spots are the transition areas and the fish are pulling up and feeding, and then when they leave they are headed to even shallower water to spawn.”
It could be a battle until the last cast as first and second are separated by only 5 ounces heading into the final frame of action.
Caiden Sinclair and Hunter Gibson of the University of Alabama vaulted into third place after bringing the second-biggest bag of the day to the scales. Their 22-11 limit has them just over 3 pounds from the lead and within sight of a possible title with 38-3.
The final team to sneak into the cut was Bethel University’s John Garrett and Brian Pahl. The duo has finished second and fourth in the last two national championships, and Garrett was the 2016 College Classic Bracket champion who represented the College Series during the 2017 season.
The 248-team field was cut after Friday’s weigh-in to the Top 30. Those teams clinched a berth in the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship presented by Bass Pro Shops and will be fishing for the win on Saturday.
The final-day takeoff will begin at 7 a.m. CT from Cypress Bend Park, and the weigh-in will be held back at the park at 3 p.m.
The event is being hosted by Toledo Bend Lake Country.