Wonder Boys atop West

RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. – For four Arkansas Tech teams, the 2011 Mercury College B.A.S.S. West Super Regional is a tournament within a tournament.

At stake is more than just a tournament victory, but a trip to the National Championship in July where the winner will walk away with a berth in the Bassmaster Classic.

After Day One, the Tech team of Dustin Huggins and Evan Barnes hold the lead, among their Wonder Boys teammates and the entire 36-boat field.

“Evan, he was stroking them,” Barnes said. “He caught three and I caught two. I was just making them mad.”

It seemed to work. Huggins and Barnes bagged 16 pounds, 3 ounces for a 2-11 lead over the team of Paul Rini and Chance Wilkinson of Northwestern State, La., who weighed in 13-8. In third with 13-4 is the Arkansas Tech team of Jake Jacobs and Evan Smith.

Texas A&M’s Stephen Becka and Weston Brown stand in fourth place with 12-5 and Michael Miller and Kyle Billingsley of the University of Arkansas are fifth with 11-8.

Arkansas Tech is fishing on its home waters of Lake Dardanelle, and it showed in the results. Spencer Grace and Jared Allen of Tech are ninth but have some ground to make up with a disappointing 10-2 despite bringing in one of only nine limits on the day.

“I guarantee one thing. I’m going to do something different tomorrow,” Grace said.

Roy Roberts and Trevor Graddy of Tech brought in four fish weighing 8-7, reporting they missed some of the nicer fish that bit.

“We got the bites to have a 15- or 16-pound sack, but we just have to execute,” Roberts said.

Smith said the Arkansas Tech fishing club started the school year with about 30 anglers, and at least 20 participated in once a month Sunday tournaments in lakes across the state. Like many colleges, the competitions were to see who would represent the school here and beyond.

“Anybody in our club could fish this tournament,” Smith said. “The top team here will be the ones going to the National Championship, unless they invite more.”

Most of the anglers reported far more difficult fishing conditions, even from practice the day before. Temperatures climbed into the high 90s and anglers said their bites diminished once the sun got high in the sky.

“We worked hard – it’s hotter than Hades out here – and we worked hard out there,” said Cody McCrary, who with Louisiana Lafayette teammate Jordy Veillion stand seventh with 10-13.

Arkansas’ Miller said the heat and bite dying out made for a rough day.

“That water cleared up and that definitely has something to do with the bite,” he said. “It slowed down when that sun came up. It was a grind. We had two fish we didn’t boat that would have helped us out.”

Some teams think they’ve found the pattern. Joe Landry and Jacob Woods of Louisiana State University-Shreveport, the defending West Super Regional champs, only had 7-10 to hold 16th, but think they have something figured out. They rallied to win last year and need that again to three-peat.

“We just figured something out,” Landry said. “We caught 30 fish in the last 30 minutes.”