FORT WORTH, Texas — Missing a limit usually dooms championship hopes, but East Texas Baptist University’s Cody Ross and Ethan Thurston defied the odds by winning the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Classic presented by Bass Pro Shops on Eagle Mountain Lake and Lake Worth with a four-fish bag that weighed 16 pounds, 6 ounces.
The winners anchored their catch with a 7-8 kicker that Ross caught with a bone-colored Strike King Popping Perch on his third cast. Thurston also caught a big fish on the Popping Perch and added two keepers with a green pumpkin V&M J-Bugs Texas-rigged on a 4/0 hook with a 3/4-ounce weight.
“We were fishing midlake and we just decided this morning where we wanted to go,” Ross said. “We were running up the lake and pulled in there because that’s where we had the most bites in practice.
“It was a tough practice because there’s not a big population of fish in this lake, so we decided where the best place was to get bites.”
That spot was a main-lake point with reeds and other vegetation. Ross, a senior, noted that a late-season shad spawn was the key to his team’s success.
“It was very surprising because the shad normally don’t spawn this late in the year,” he said. “But we’ve had an unseasonably rainy and cooler spring.”
While the anglers agreed that a slow, vulnerable presentation was the key to making their frog infiltrate the spawning baitfish activity, Thurston said their flipping bite was far more random.
“If you got it in front of their face, they’d bite it, but you couldn’t put a pattern together in the reeds for anything,” the sophomore said. “It was just making as many casts as you could to cover water.”
Ross agreed: “In practice, one of them would be on reeds, one would be on water willows, the next one would be on the bulkhead. But today, reeds were where we got bit.”
The winners got their work done in short order Sunday. Following Ross’ big catch, they had what they weighed in in the first 30 minutes. Despite missing a limit, Ross said he and Thurston were pleased that their game plan delivered what they needed.
“We knew we were on a better-than-average size fish whenever we would get one to bite,” Ross said. “We had a pretty good idea that it was going to take a mid- to upper-teens bag to win, so we knew that if we could just get three or four key bites in the boat that it would go a long way for us.”
Cody Gregory and Levi Mullins of Bethel University finished second with 11-13, and Zeke Gossett and Lucas Smith of Jacksonville State University were third with 10-6.