When over 150 collegiate anglers hit the water this Saturday, June 23rd for the Collegiate Bass Fishing Open, Presented by Pepsi there will be a lot on the line, both figuratively and literally. Based on past events on Kentucky Lake, there will be lots of bass on the line, but beyond that are bragging rights, and perhaps most importantly, the title of the nation’s first School of the Year.
The School of the Year program recognizes collegiate clubs that compete in the BoatUS Collegiate Bass Fishing Championship Series, along with Carhartt College B.A.S.S., and the National Guard FLW College Fishing. Additional ACA-sanctioned events were also selected as part of the program, making the list 22 events in total, which is the most complete collegiate fishing rankings to date.
Fewer than 300 points separates the Top 13 teams in the nation, and a strong finish for any of the teams, and a poor performance by any of the others, could easily turn this race around. Eastern Kentucky University for example, has won the first two ACA events held on Kentucky Lake and they are currently sitting in fourth place. With just over 200 points to make up, and multiple teams registered, they could easily take home the inaugural title if those at the top stumble.
With that said, the two closest horses in the race are in-state competitors with fewer than 120 miles between the two campuses. A mere 56 points separate the two powerhouses of collegiate bass fishing. The current leaders, Arkansas Tech University of Russellville, and second place University of Arkansas of Fayetteville, are no strangers to head to head competition with one another. They battled it out on several bodies of water this year and have been trading punches for quite some time. Like any good horse race, boxing match, or collegiate sporting event, this one will go down to the final hour before we know who the first National School of the Year truly is.
Tech is heading to the event with guns blazing and three boats representing their team to ensure “if” it is won, it is won as a team. Their team is anchored by Evan Barnes and Reagan Moore, the same Barnes and Moore who did some serious damage at the Cabela’s Collegiate Big Bass Bash, as well as the ULM Invitational, and several other sanctioned events this year.
According to Barnes, “I feel good about the event. We’ve done all the homework we can do online and feel like we know what we need to do. I’ve fished Kentucky Lake a couple of times and I’m pumped for what should be a good bite. I feel like I can find good shallow fish there and that is what I plan to look for.” If that shallow bite is found, there should be no doubt that Evan will have a good sack of fish.
With that said, they’ve got a strong supporting cast with Evan Smith and Clayton Schuh running another Tech boat. Just in case those four can’t find the bass they need to claim the title, they’ve also got Aaron Sarna who will be going it alone in hopes of backing up the rest of his teammates. Any of these five anglers can catch some bass and they’ve proved it with the ACA, B.A.S.S. and FLW throughout 2012.
The University of Arkansas is going to challenge the team from Tech with all they have, but they are going into the Collegiate Bass Fishing Open, Presented by Pepsi with all their eggs in one basket…or in this case…one boat. Like any good leader, Arkansas President, Paul LeFleur is carrying the weight of his team squarely on his shoulders because as Paul put it, “We’ve worked all year to be in this position, we cannot let up now and just hand it over.”
Due to summer jobs, graduation, and limited club funds, Paul and his partner, Adam Jackson, are the only two making the trip to Paris, Tennessee. “You know, it’s just one of those deals. As students, we have a lot of demands on us during the summer and a lot of our team is scattered across the country with internships, summer jobs, time at home, and the likes. Adam and I are truly the only ones from our team that can make it, so we’re going to go give it our best shot. We need six good fish per day, which is totally doable for us,” added Paul.
To the casual observer, it may sound like a done deal, but to experienced anglers like Paul and Adam, it makes all the sense in the world. Two guys, three days of practice, two days of competition, and over 240,000 acres to find 12 good bass…no problem.
When asked about being outnumbered by Tech heading into the event, Paul went on to add, “We’re good with it. We had a fantastic practice there this time last year, but the event just went all wrong for us. I’ve been doing our homework online and I think it’s going to set up well for Adam and me.”
It’s a good thing we haven’t been touting this as a huge rivalry, because if there is any animosity on either side, these guys have done a good job of keeping it secret. According to Evan, “Arkansas has a great bunch of guys on their team. Don’t get me wrong, on the water, we always want to take them down, but when it’s all over, we’d be happy to go grab dinner together.”
It may make for a better story or television show if they were brutal enemies, but that simply isn’t the case. Paul echoed Evan’s sentiments with, “If it doesn’t happen for us, I hope it happens for Tech. They’ve got a strong program and have been catching them everywhere they’ve gone this year. We wish them the best, but we’re certainly not going to give it to them. That’s not how we do it around here.”
Despite the story line here, it’s absolutely possible that neither team takes the inaugural title back to Arkansas. It could be southbound to Monroe, Louisiana, potentially stay in Tennessee, or make a short trip back up into Kentucky. It all boils down to the fish, and 17 hours of competition on Kentucky Lake. Only time will tell.
The Collegiate Bass Fishing Open, Presented by Pepsi is open to all collegiate fishing teams recognized by their university, and there is no entry fee to participate. As the last qualifying tournament for the 2012 ACA School of the Year Program, winners of this inaugural program will be crowned at Paris Landing on Sunday, June 24 at the conclusion of the event. Those teams interested in learning more should visit: Collegiatebasschampionship.com.
Daily weigh-ins will be held at Paris Landing Saturday, June 23 and Sunday, June 24, beginning at 2 pm. They are free and open to the public. Collegiate fishing fans, family members, and friends of competitors can follow the action by visiting Collegiatebasschampionship.com and Facebook.com/CollegiateBassChampionship.
Televised coverage will be seen on NBC Sports Outdoors, and available to over 76 million households.