Bethel University team takes lead in Bassmaster College Bass tournament
Published By OutdoorsFIRST Media Published April 20, 2018
A record-setting field of college anglers hit the Tennessee River at Pickwick Lake for the three-day Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Southern Tour event presented by Bass Pro Shops today.
When the dust settled, John Garrett and Brian Pahl of Bethel University took the top spot after the first round of competition with 22 pounds, 12 ounces of smallmouth bass. They lead the field of 266 teams into Friday's important cut-day.
Anglers had to contend with cold and windy, weather. Temperatures were in the low 40s at the launch site at McFarland Park, presenting slow fishing early in the day. Most teams had to decide between two predominant patterns that had excelled during the practice period on Pickwick.
Quickly it became a battle between the bass fishing teams that focused on smallmouth bass at the base of the Wilson Dam and those anglers who focused on largemouth around bushes and shallow cover elsewhere on the lake.
Bethel's Garrett and Pahl concentrated their efforts on smallmouth, even with a hefty crowd of anglers in that region of the lake.
"Everything happened a lot faster than we expected today," Garrett said. "We had a later boat number, but we were able to pull in exactly where we wanted to, and we caught all of our weight before 10:30 a.m."
Their five-bass limit was anchored by a hefty smallmouth that tipped the scales at 6-plus pounds. They landed that fish with 10 boats nearby, but that wasn't anything different than they expected because the tailrace area had seen heavy fishing pressure all week.
"We could go out and catch two fish tomorrow and someone beside us could catch them like we did today," Pahl said. "It's not necessarily luck, but there are so many quality fish in the area, and a slight change in current could reposition them completely differently."
Garrett and Pahl have a storied history together as they finished second in the 2016 Bassmaster College Series National Championship. Garrett later won the Classic Bracket. Then in 2017, the duo finished fourth and fished in the Classic Bracket once again. The one thing they haven't accomplished is a major Bassmaster win together. After narrowly missing out a few times, they'd like to accomplish that, since they already qualified via the Central Tour event at Toledo Bend in January.
Right behind Garrett and Pahl is the Murray State University duo of Harbor Lovin and Evan Bramhill, who boasted 22-8 after Thursday's action.
"We stumbled on these fish on the final day of practice," Bramhill said. "We had all our weight by 9:30 to 10 a.m. and then went looking for new places but never really found anything better."
The freshmen duo is only 4 ounces off the pace set by Garrett and Pahl and are feeling confident as they brought a 6-11 largemouth to the scales. Their 22-8 also included a fish less than 2 pounds that they couldn't cull the rest of the day. They know there is plenty of opportunity for a heavier catch Friday. Unlike the leaders, they targeted largemouth solely, but they, too, had a lot of company in their area.
"We fished behind other teams and caught fish behind them," Lovin said. "It made us more confident, but we plan to start our day on our key stretch tomorrow and see if we can catch a few quality fish."
The Big Bass of the event so far is an 8-2 largemouth caught by Middle Tennessee State University's Mekiah Jack and Matthew Cross. Their giant catches helped them mightily and it anchored their 21-3 total, which has them tied for third with Adrian College's Nick Marsh and Jarrod Layton. Rounding out the Top 5 is Ryan Nevil and Nathan Wood of Dallas Baptist University with 20-15.
Fishing is excellent despite the weather. Eight teams caught limits weighing more than 20 pounds in the opening frame of competition on Pickwick, and the 32nd place cut-weight for the National Championship qualification is 16-7, which is held by Polk State's Justin Bun and Evan Wieber.
Friday's takeoff begins at 7 a.m. CT at McFarland Park in Florence (110 W College St.) and weigh-in will take place at the same location starting at 3 p.m. CT.