Bryan College bass team takes top spot in Bassmaster Eastern Regional
Published By OutdoorsFIRST Media Published May 15, 2017
Nathan Bell and Cole Sands of Bryan College vaulted into the winner's circle at the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Eastern Regional presented by Bass Pro Shops on Cherokee Lake with a three-day total of 44 pounds, 4 ounces of bass.
Bell and Sands steadily climbed the leaderboard each day as they moved from fourth Thursday to third Friday and by day's end today, to the top spot. The Tennessee duo caught a final day limit of 15-3 to take the title by a mere 10 ounces over Tennessee Tech University.
"We thought we lost this tournament in the final few minutes of the day," Sands said. "I hooked a big one that went crazy at the boat and broke off. I thought for sure that would cost us."
In the end, the lost smallmouth didn't hurt their day as they ended on top after their fishing pattern paid dividends in the long run. Sands and Bell utilized a Carolina Rig when they targeted deep smallmouth bass, but it wasn't the ordinary run-of-the-mill Carolina Rig.
"We downsized everything to get as many bites as possible," the team said. "We used lighter line, a subtle Gary Yamamoto Senko as our plastic and a lighter rod to ensure we didn't pull it away from the fish or put too much pressure on the lighter line."
The Bryan College teammates weighed 15 smallmouth for the event and their average smallmouth was just slightly lighter than 3 pounds. They expected to catch some bass that size this week, but not on a Carolina Rig.
"We got on a stellar swimbait bite earlier in the week," Bell said. "But with a high school tournament last week and a 160-boat field for the first two days of this event, we knew they would see plenty of that bait, so we threw something a little different. It really produced."
Using a combination of maps and satellite photographs helped the team find their offshore structure on Cherokee. The lake has been low all winter and a lot of the satellite imaging shows off the plentiful bottom structure this fishery has. The Elite Series fished Cherokee Lake in February, but it was 25 feet lower than it is now, which put plenty of water on those prime spots.
"Cole used Google Earth and other maps and found some really good offshore structure," Bell said. "One of those areas really produced quality (bass) for us this week. We used another area to fill our limit, and one or two spots to put above-average bass in the boat."
The teammates overtook Tennessee Tech's John Berry and Sam Carris, who held the lead the first two days but fell to second with only 12-3 on the final day. With a different wind direction, overcast skies and a lot of pressure on their areas, they caught more non-keepers on Saturday than any other day.
"They just didn't bite for us today," Berry said. "On Friday, we made key decisions that gave us 15-15, but today we missed out and didn't make the correct decisions at the right time."
They had primarily relied on a small swimbait when fishing deeper water this week, and that produced 31-7 over the first two days of competition, giving them a 2-pound edge over second place. Their familiarity with the lake told them to use the swimbait for smallmouth after an anticipated largemouth strategy failed to work.
"If you were to ask me when this event was announced, I would've said it would be dominated by largemouth with some smallmouth mixed in," Berry said. "So it's funny that I would be the one to weigh 15 smallmouth this week."
"It's not that the smallmouth were biting so good this week," Carris said. "But rather, we expected the largemouth to bite a lot better."
Taking third place were John Garrett and Brian Pahl of Bethel University with a total of 41-12. The 2016 National Championship runner-ups punched their ticket again to the championship again this year. Garrett was the 2017 College Series qualifier for the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK'S Sporting Goods.
Nick Hatfield and Corey Neece of Tusculum College finished fourth, and Sam Glenn and Tyler Spainhour of the University of North Carolina-Charlotte were fifth.
Glenn and Spainhour jumped from 10th to fifth on the final day thanks to the Nitro Big Bag of the event, which was 16 pounds of Cherokee Lake largemouth. They will receive at $250 Bass Pro Shops gift card for that honor.
The Big Bass Award of the event went to Jacob Foutz and Jake Lee of Bryan College for their 4-6 smallmouth from Friday.
The Livingston Lures Day 2 Leader Award of $500 went to Carris and Berry for holding the lead going into the final day.
The Top 21 teams advanced from the Eastern Regional and will now fish the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship presented by Bass Pro Shops later this summer. Teams which didn't qualify will have one final shot during the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Wild Card presented by Bass Pro Shops at Lay Lake, Alabama, June 8-10.
The Economic Development Alliance of Jefferson County, Tenn. and Carson-Newman University hosted the event.