RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. – Dustin Huggins said he and Arkansas Tech teammate Evan Barnes were in panic mode.
It was 11:30 a.m. and the team only had one fish in the well, and their Day One lead in the 2011 Mercury College B.A.S.S. West Super Regional was in serious jeopardy.
A drawdown on Lake Dardanelle left most of the 36 teams scrambling Friday, which Huggins and Barnes did in a big way, catching a 6-pound, 1-ounce bass then two fish on one cast. They totaled 15-12 on Day Two for a 31-15 total to top Texas A&M’s Stephen Becka and Weston Brown, who took second with 26-7.
“It jumped 15 to 20 feet from the boat, and Evan said, ‘Oh, God,’ “ Huggins said of the event’s largest fish. “And then it jumped again right into the net.”
The two still had work to do, and Huggins accomplished that when he brought in 5 and a half pounds of fish on one crankbait.
“We got a lucky break,” Barnes said. “He had a three on one treble hook and a 2 and ½ on the other.”
Barnes finished their limit in the final moments and “then we pulled up and had to come in.”
In third place was the Arkansas Tech team of Spencer Grace and Jared Allen, who climbed from ninth with the second biggest bag of the day, 14-6, to finish with 24-8.
Michael Miller and Kyle Billingsley of the University of Arkansas took fourth with 10-10 Friday for a total of 22-2. Fishing solo, John Anderson of Tarleton State took fifth with 21-7.
Becka and Brown led much of the weigh-in at a steamy Lake Dardanelle State Park, where according to the Weather Channel the 97-degree high on the day beat the 1977 record. Joe Landry of LSU Shreveport said the reading on his handheld was 111.
But the anglers weren’t complaining so much about the weather as the drop in water that had teams altering plans.
“They dropped the water out a foot, and when you’re fishing in two feet of water and they drop it … “ Louisiana-Lafayette’s Cody McCrary said after bringing in only three fish. “We were just too stubborn.”
Paul Rini and Chance Wilkinson of Northwestern State, La., started the day in second place with 13-8. They were a team to watch as boat issues on Day One limited them to four hours of fishing time, but the drop startled them when they returned to their area.
“We had only fished to 10 before out boat blew up and we went back to our spot today and there was no water, so we just went fishing,” said Rini, who fell to seventh after bringing in four fish for 7-0 Friday. “We just couldn’t adapt. It doesn’t fish anything like the Red River.”
Anglers new to Lake Dardanelle remarked that Arkansas Tech anglers didn’t seem to have the same issues finding backup spots on their home lake, but Huggins and Barnes scared themselves, not finding anything in several areas before hitting the jackpot.
“We started out shallow and ran some water,” Huggins said, noting they found fish pulled away from the grass to deeper water. “This was one of the hardest days I’ve fished on this lake.”
College B.A.S.S. schools are required finish in the top 50 percent in one of the three Super Regionals if they hope to qualify for National Championship, to be held July 7-9 on the Arkansas River out of the Little Rock.
After three days, the national champion team will be crowned then those two anglers go head to head on July 11 for a berth in the 2012 Bassmaster Classic. Huggins and Barnes said they hope to fish against each other for the circuit’s coveted berth, which the long-time partners admit will be testy.
“Me and him,” Barnes said, “I hope we battle it out to go to the Classic.”