By Michael Wetzel, Assistant sports editor, The Decatur Daily
First impressions can go a long way.
And for Tennessee sophomore Phillip Hopper, the fishing conditions on Wheeler Lake on Thursday were impressive. He said his bass-fishing team in its first outing on the lake caught six keepers, which included a 3-pound largemouth pulled from the Elk River.
That’s not a bad day for a group of college anglers, but Thursday was just for practice.
Hopper, a 20-year-old sophomore studying management, knows team’s chances of winning the Southern Collegiate Bass Championship this weekend improve if the weather and fish cooperate.
And the forecast looks good.
“We’re going to try to win this thing,” Hopper said. “I’m going to go out there, have a good time and we’ll see what happens. It’s all about finding sweet spots.”
Hopper said his success Thursday came on spinner bait. More than 130 college anglers from more than 20 colleges and universities will be vying for the championship cup and a trip to the Boat US Nationals in Lewisville, Texas, in May.
Tournament organizers say Tennessee, Alabama, North Alabama and Georgia are considered the favorites.
Alabama junior Matt Carter is from Owens Cross Roads and has fished out of Ingalls Harbor plenty, he said. He hopes to use that familiarity to his team’s advantage.
“We’ve got the best schools in the South here,” said the business major. “But we’re Alabama. I’ve had some luck on Wheeler in the past. I hope that continues.”
Southern Collegiate Bass Championship Tournament Director Jann Swaim simply shook his head when asked about the pleasant weather that welcomed the participants to Decatur.
“The weather all season hasn’t been kind to us,” Swaim said. “Now, we come here and this wonderful weather. I’m not sure these guys will know what to do out there on the water with this great weather.”
After starting their morning at Ingalls Harbor, the angler gathered at the Point Mallard pavilion Thursday evening. After registering and enjoying snacks, the group was welcomed by Decatur Mayor Don Stanford.
At an awards ceremony Thursday night, Matt Lee of Birmingham-Southern received the award for reeling in the biggest largemouth during the season.
John Young of Tennessee won for hooking the biggest smallmouth.
North Alabama was recognized for winning the regular season with a 5-1 mark.
Georgia won the individual points championship.
Fishing begins for real at 6:30 a.m. Friday from Ingalls Harbor. Weigh-in is 3 p.m.
Saturday’s launching starts at 6:30 a.m. with the final weigh-in at 2 p.m., followed by the awards ceremony.
Careco Media will be filming for the Versus television network throughout the weekend.
Spectator admission is free to the public.