COLUMBIA, S.C. – As the top 25 collegiate fishing teams in the nation made their way out onto the open waters of Lake Murray shortly after 7 a.m. to kick off the start of the 2012 National Guard FLW College Fishing National Championship, the young and talented group of anglers have clearly entered a classroom like no other.
With a prestigious national title and berth into the 2012 Forrest Wood Cup on the line this week, competitors will have to successfully navigate nearly 44,000 acres of the expansive and nationally renowned waterway known as Lake Murray.
And, to be sure, it won’t be easy.
Pitted against the nation’s best college sticks, anglers will have to devise a successful and highly tactical three-day game plan in order to even have a shot at the title. In short, it will be a final exam the likes many have never seen.
“This is going to be awesome,” said University of Georgia team member Randy Tolbert, Jr. “We’re here at the national championship representing our school. And we’re really looking forward to it. To try and win a national title and have a chance to fish in the Forrest Wood Cup, that’s pretty cool.”
Tolbert’s fellow competitors agree that this event is in a class all by itself.
“This tournament is loaded with great anglers,” said Dustin Vaal of the University of Indiana. “To get to fish for a national title and have a chance at fishing in the Forrest Wood Cup, it doesn’t get any better than that. That’s what really makes this fun. To win this would be an absolute dream come true.”
However, dreaming about a title and actually winning one are two different things. For starters, college teams will likely have to boat anywhere from 15 to 17 pounds a day to stay in the running and qualify for Saturday’s top-five cut. A recent cold snap has also potentially pushed back the blueback herring spawn until later in the week – which could have some significant ramifications for teams attempting to lock in on a consistent bass bite. Throw in the fact that Lake Murray boasts a nearly endless amount of fishing terrain and you have all the makings of one really challenging tournament.
As such, a carefully devised game plan and the ability to adapt to a constantly changing environment will be key.
“There will be a lot of fish caught this week,” said Tolbert. “But Lake Murray is a herring lake and it is a completely different kind of animal than any other type of lake we fish. Finding those baitfish will be important because when you do, that usually means you’re around active (bass). I think a lot of the guys will be using herring imitators like flukes this week. Topwater baits will be pretty good as well. When the wind is blowing, you’ll have some success with spinnerbaits. But I think you’ll also see a lot of the finesse-type baits like shaky heads and drop-shots.”
Vaal agreed that Lake Murray will present a challenging environment all week long.
“This is a big lake. It’s probably four times the size of any lake we have back home in Indiana,” said Vaal. “The key is being able to dissect portions of it so it’s more manageable. Lake Murray is a really good pattern lake so, if you can figure something out, it should pretty much work anywhere on the lake. For us, I think we’re probably going to throw a lot of suspending soft-plastic baits. Topwater baits and the Alabama Rig might come into play as well.
“But finding the blueback herring will be huge,” Vaal continued. “The bass are trying to push those baitfish up as shallow as possible. These blueback herring will start spawning when the temperature hits 70 degrees. And once that happens, this lake will be on fire. My guess is that this tournament is going to get better and better as the weather warms up during the week. And by Sunday, when it’s supposed to hit 80 degrees, you could see some really big bags.”
In the end, for the 50 competitors who have survived the grueling, year-long qualification process, this tournament comes down to one thing – and that’s winning.
“We didn’t come here just to have a good showing and finish somewhere in the top five,” said Tolbert. “With a national title on the line and a chance to fish in the Forrest Wood Cup, you don’t get those chances too often. So we’re not here to just get a pat on the back. We’re here to win.”
Meet the contenders
Auburn University – Jordan Lee, Vinemont, Ala., and Matt Lee, Auburn, Ala.
California Polytechnic – Scott Hellesen and Damian Bean, both of San Luis Obispo, Calif.
Chico State – Bo Harkins, Chico, Calif., and Anthony Dayton, Walnut Creek, Calif.
Chico State – Thomas White, Fountain Valley, Calif., and Frank Vogt, Chico, Calif.
Christopher Newport – Ryan Ingalls, Fairfax, Va., and Derek Berhalter, Farnham, Va.
Clemson University – Andy Wicker, Pomaria, S.C., and Harold Turner, Sumter, S.C.
Fairmont State University – Wil Dieffenbauch, Hundred, W. Va., and Brent Dodrill, Fairmont, Va.
Fresno State – Kong Moua and Christopher Delgado, both of Fresno, Calif.
Georgia Southern – Wesley Maples, Rocky Face, Ga., and Jed Thigpen, Statesboro, Ga.
Indiana University – Dustin Vaal, Bloomington, Ind., and Steven Bressler, Fremont, Ind.
Kansas State University – Brandon and Ryan Patterson, both of Goddard, Kan.
Kennesaw State University – Thomas Frink, Woodstock, Ga., and Justin Marlow, Kennesaw, Ga.
Louisiana State University – Timothy Morris, Donaldsonville, La., and Richard Murdock, Lawrenceville, Ga.
Northwestern University – Jimmy Morrow, Arlington Heights, Ill., and Matthew Kestufskie, Evanston, Ill.
Ramapo College – Charles Danza, Ringwood, N.J., and Bob Rieder, West Milford, N.J.
Ramapo College – Jeff Voss, Secaucus, N.J., and Joseph Zapf, Whippany, N.J.
Sacramento State – Robert Matsuura, Sacramento, Calif., and Thomas Kanemoto, Elk Grove, Calif.
Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville – Brad Lemasters, Maryville, Ill., and Justin Skinner, Taylorville, Ill.
Stephen F. Austin – Andrew Upshaw, Hemphill, Texas, and Ryan Watkins, Rockport, Texas
Texas A&M University – Kyle Bates, and Cody Collins, both of College Station, Texas
Texas A&M University – Andrew Shafer, College Station, Texas, and Weston Brown, Bryan, Texas
Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi – Jacob Heath and Kennedy Schwartzburg, both of Corpus Christi, Texas
University of Georgia – Randy Tolbert, Jr., Rome, Ga., and Chase Simmemon, Alto, Ga.
University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point – Ted Johnson and Jody Derks, both of Waupaca, Wis.
Virginia Tech – Wyatt Blevins, Pulaski, Va., and Carson Rejzer, Hampton, Va.
The entire National Guard FLW College Fishing National Championship field will compete for two days with the top-five college teams advancing to the third and final day of competition based on their overall accumulated weight. Teams are permitted to bring as many as five fish to the scales during each weigh-in. After the conclusion of Sunday’s weigh-in, the tournament title will be awarded to the college team that has recorded the most combined weight over all three days of competition.
The national championship awards the top team with $50,000 cash, a Ranger 177TR with a 90-horsepower engine for their school’s bass club and $25,000 for the school they represent.
Daily takeoffs for the national championship will be from Park Site No. 8 (North) located at 2101 N. Lake Drive in Columbia at 7 a.m. Weigh-in will commence at 5 p.m. on Friday, 2:30 p.m. on Saturday and *4:30 p.m. on Sunday. All weigh-ins will be adjacent to the Carolina Baseball Stadium on the University of South Carolina campus located at the corner of Blossom and Williams streets in Columbia.
(Note: *Final weigh-in on Sunday will immediately follow the University of South Carolina baseball game and is subject to change).
How they got here
Four regular-season events were held in each conference – Central, Northern, Southeastern, Texas and Western. The top five teams in each qualifying event advanced to one of five televised three-day National Guard FLW College Fishing Conference Championships. The top five teams from each conference championship advanced to this year’s national championship, and the winner of the national championship will qualify for the 2012 Forrest Wood Cup. The Forrest Wood Cup, the world championship of bass fishing, will be held Aug. 9-12 on Lake Lanier in Duluth, Ga., and will offer the collegiate anglers the opportunity to compete for a top award of $500,000. The national champions also will receive use of a wrapped boat and Chevy truck for Forrest Wood Cup competition.
Bass-fishing fans take note
Want to watch the national championship weigh-in live but can’t make it in person? Then tune into FLW Live on FLWOutdoors.com shortly before 4 p.m. Eastern time to watch live streaming video and audio of today’s opening-round weigh in.
In conjunction with the tournament, college fishing fans can also take part in The FLW Tailgate Zone, which include a sports zone, tailgate games, climbing wall and Ranger boat simulator. The Tailgate Zone will run from April 13 to 15 (4-7 p.m. on Friday, 1-4 p.m. on Saturday and 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. on Sunday) and will be located adjacent to the Carolina Baseball Stadium.
Coverage of the National Guard FLW College Fishing National Championship, hosted by the Capital City/Lake Murray Country RTB, will be broadcast in high-definition (HD) on NBC Sports Network. “FLW” will air May 27 from 1 to 2 p.m. ET. “FLW,” hosted by Jason Harper, is broadcast to more than 500 million households worldwide.
Sunrise: 6:55 a.m.
Temperature at takeoff: 40 degrees
Expected high temperature: 76 degrees
Water temperature: 62-68 degrees
Wind: From the south-southwest from 4 mph
Humidity: 40 percent
Day’s outlook: Sunny