By Paul Stackhouse
The Decatur Daily
It was so quiet you could have heard a fish hook drop.
During the Southern Collegiate Bass Fishing Series tournament weigh-in Saturday at Ingalls Harbor, a somewhat noisy crowd in attendance quickly turned to silence when the Bethel University fishing team of Jake Lawrence and Jacob Hardy walked to the stage. A rumor had been floating throughout the fans that the team had a trophy fish to weigh-in and it was their turn at the scale.
The somewhat subdued crowd immediately switched from quiet to a soft roar as Lawrence, who caught the keeper, proudly pulled out a rather large-sized smallmouth bass. When tournament director and emcee Jann Swaim called out 6.05 pounds, those gathered around the stage, including workers, looked in amazement.
It wasn’t as if anybody had not seen a fish that big before, but a 6-pound-plus bronzeback caught in early February on Wheeler Lake in not-so-nice water and weather conditions just caught a lot of people off guard.
Actually, any serious bass angler would be extremely proud to catch a smallmouth bass that size, no matter what time of year it was.
After putting the trophy smallmouth bass back in the bag with four other bass they had caught (each team has a five-bass limit), it was announced that Lawrence and Hardy had a total weight of 13.32 pounds, sending them to the top of the leaderboard. The weight held up for the Bethel pair heading into today’s championship round.
In an earlier Southern Collegiate tournament in January, Wheeler Lake was again the event waters, but there was a twist involved. Since the contest was being held out of Huntsville, anglers could fish from Guntersville Dam to the I-65 bridge. In this tournament being held out of Decatur, the participants could fish any part of Wheeler Lake they wished. Locking through either Guntersville Dam to Lake Guntersville or Wheeler Dam to Wilson Lake however would be a serious rule violation.
Not being able to practice because of weather conditions, Hardy and Lawrence decided to fish familiar territory and they headed east after launching at Ingalls to cast in areas they had worked in the earlier event.
“We talked about it and decided that would be the best thing for us to do,” Lawrence, a sophomore from Union City, Tenn., said. “It looked like we made a good choice. We plan on going back to the same place tomorrow and hope it holds up. I really feel like it will hold up for us. It’s a stretch about 300 yards long and if things go right, we’ll probably stay there all day long.”
The pair made it clear that a Strike King Bitsby Bug and Strike King Rodent were their go-to baits.
“I don’t know about tomorrow, but they worked for us today,” Hardy, a sophomore from Paris, Tenn., said. “We made about a 45-minute run after take-off and we had caught a good limit in about an hour. We knew we had a good weight and we backed off to try and save some fish for tomorrow.”
Lawrence and Hardy are one team out of a total of 61 boats fishing. They got to launch early in the first flight Saturday, which means they will be heading out in the last flight today.
With that in mind, it could create a problem as another team might decide to invade their territory and push them away from the fish they had located themselves.
“We thought about that,” Hardy said. “To be honest with you, we thought about that a lot. But, hopefully we’ve come up with an answer. Some of our teammates who are launching early are going to the spot where we caught our fish and they are going to fish it until we get there. I hope they will be able to protect it until we can get there. One thing I can say for sure is I know I will be able to sleep a lot better knowing they are going to do that for us.”
Daniel Holland, a senior from Springville, and Eric Terrell, a sophomore from Madison, came to the scales with four bass weighing 9.77 pounds. The weight put the two anglers from Auburn University in second place.
“We traveled 80 miles today to catch these fish,” Terrell said. “We went 40 up and 40 back.
“It really was sort of a tough day for us. We starting throwing a jig and that’s what we caught our fish on. And, I’m sure we’ll be throwing a jig again tomorrow. We’re going for the big-fish bite and that’s why we’ll stay with the jig.
“I have no idea at all what tomorrow is going to be like for us. There’s a front coming in and I hear we could have a pretty good wind blowing. Either way, we’ll be out there throwing our jigs and hoping that we’ll have a better day than we did today.”
Rounding out the top 10 are Adam Murphree/Blake Evans (8.93, Auburn), Michael Wilson/Scott Beavers (6.75, Gadsden State), Chase Rampy/Austin Santos (6.32, Gadsden State), Zack Parker/Jason Arnold (6.29, Bethel University), Justin Elliott/Casey Steward (5.73,Gadsden State), Shawn Dalrymple/Ryan Salzman (5.06, University of North Alabama), Andrew Gordon/Xan Hancock (4.84, Mississippi State) and Will Counts/Aaron Martindale (4.34, Northwest Shoals Community College).
“I really don’t expect to see a lot of large bags come in,” said Jann Swaim, tournament director and Auburn University Bass Sports Club adviser. “A lot of teams were fishing in water that was 42 degrees and that’s going to slow things down being that cold. I even had a couple of teams that said they found water that was 38 degrees.
“I think we’ll see some better weights tomorrow with things warming up a bit. Hopefully, we’ll have a warm-up to begin around nine in the morning and that could result in a few good fish and a few good bags, I hope so. That would add to the fun a lot of these kids are having. We certainly appreciate the Decatur/Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau and the City of Decatur. They have been extra nice to us and keep us wanting to come back.”
Today’s championship weigh-in is slated to begin at 2 p.m., at Ingalls Harbor.
College fishing results
Here are the top 10 teams after Day 1 of the Southern Collegiate Bass Fishing Series at Ingalls Harbor in Decatur. The tournament concludes today with a 2 p.m. weigh-in.
School Total pounds
Bethel 1 13.32
Auburn 1 9.77
Auburn 2 8.93
Gadsden State 1 6.75
Gadsden State 2 6.32
Bethel 2 6.29
Gadsden State 3 5.73
North Alabama 5.06
Mississippi State 4.84