Throughout 2015, 855 FLW College Fishing teams attempted to qualify for the 2016 FLW College Fishing National Championship, but only 54 will have the honor of competing in collegiate bass fishing’s premier event this week on Lake Keowee.
Keowee is a man-made power-plant reservoir in South Carolina. It holds spotted bass in great numbers but also largemouth bass, which tend to be of better quality. That means multiple patterns will be in play.
This body of water was the stadium for the 2014 National Championship too, but the air and water temperatures were low that year, which saw deep spotted bass reign supreme. This year the temperatures are predicted to be higher, perhaps bringing the largemouth bite more into play.
No matter the pattern, the pinnacle event of the season is always compelling when top college anglers from around the nation converge. Keep an eye out for these teams that stand a good chance to win the title.
1. California State University-Chico
Travis Bounds and Andrew Loberg
Fresh off their Western Conference Championship, Chico State’s Bounds and Loberg are set up for another run at the championship title. These West Coast anglers will have no problem fishing for spotted bass with light tackle. If that’s the deal again this year, they will be dangerous.
The team also brings Loberg’s experience on the lake to South Carolina. He was part of the Chico team that took fifth place there in 2014. Don’t be surprised if they improve on that performance this year.
2. Texas A&M
Josh Bensema and Matthew McArdle
Momentum and confidence can be big factors in tournament fishing. Coming off their win at the Bassmaster College Series National Championship, Bensema and McArdle will be chock-full of both.
In that tournament, they won by catching big largemouths that were fewer in number than the more common smallmouths that most of their competitors targeted.
On Keowee, a similar approach – but replace smallmouths with spotted bass – could work if the weather remains warm and the largemouths move up shallow. If that scenario occurs, this team will have a good chance at a second championship title. Texas A&M could write an interesting story this week, as some teams have come close to winning the championship on both major college circuits, yet none has.
3. University of South Carolina
Chris Blanchette and Hampton Anderson
Patrick Walters and Gettys Brannon of the University of South Carolina won the 2015 National Championship on nearby Lake Murray. The Gamecocks are back this season, but with two new faces. Blanchette and Anderson will look to keep the College Fishing championship trophy in Columbia.
Both anglers have a local advantage – USC is the second closest school to Lake Keowee of those in the tournament. The lake is changing quickly this time of year, and having that local knowledge can be a huge help. We already know Anderson can bring home hardware after his recent FLW Bass Fishing League victory on Lake Murray. Look for this new USC team to make a push at a second straight championship for the school.
4. Auburn University
Mitchell Jennings and Timmy Ward
Ethan Hayes and Garrett Roberts
I cheated a little on this one and made this a double pick. But at least they fish for the same school. The Auburn University fishing team is a powerhouse and is considered a player in every National Championship. Both Auburn teams that made the championship bring experience and skills to tournament.
In 2014, Ward and Roberts fished together and took eighth place at the National Championship on Keowee. Those two have since split up, but each is back with a new teammate.
Auburn is one of only five colleges with multiple teams in the tournament. When anglers only get a day and a half of official practice, having two teams to tackle a lake can be a huge advantage if they choose to work together. Auburn is in prime position to make yet another championship push.
5. University of Illinois
Qiurun Chen and Luke Stoner
A team from the University of Illinois might not jump out as a tournament favorite, especially since this is the first team from the school to ever qualify for the National Championship.
However, Chen and Stoner have a few factors going for them. They qualified early for the championship at the FLW College Fishing Open last March. The extra planning they’ve had is a big advantage. Also, the Illini State is known for its numerous power-plant fisheries. Assuming they have some experience on those lakes, Chen and Stoner should have a good grip on how warm-water effluent affects a bass fishery and how to capitalize on the warm-water areas. Fishing near the power plant on Keowee produced several top 10s back in 2014, so that pattern might be in play again.