MOUNTAIN HOME, Ark. — After a slow, dark morning Thursday, things brightened quickly for Cole Sands and Conner Dimauro of Bryan College in Dayton, Tenn.
With only four small bass by late morning, the team found a key stretch of water today that helped them total 19 pounds, 4 ounces and take the Day 1 lead at the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series presented by Bass Pro Shops at Bull Shoals Lake.
In second place are Will Andrie and Gaige Blanton of Kansas State University with 18-0. Taylor Hamburger and Tristen Turley of Oklahoma State University are third with 17-6. The 199 teams brought 2,458 pounds of fish to the scales on a rainy day.
“We had an unbelievable practice,” Sands said. “Good bags on this lake are 15 to 18 pounds. We got here Tuesday around noon for the first day of practice and our best five went about 21 pounds. We were trying not to catch them.
“Today, we started off in a couple areas where we saw some good fish, and it was slow to start with. We only had one by 10 a.m., then pieced together four keepers for about 10 pounds. Then at around 11, we went down one bank and caught six keepers.”
That seemed to open the floodgates to go to their bigger fish. The team culled up to around 16 pounds and then decided to try for one of the largest bedding fish they had marked in practice. Dimauro caught the 4-pounder within three minutes of getting to the spot at around 2 p.m.
Confident their 17-plus bag would put them in contention, they went looking for more fish in other pockets.
“It was our last cast, and Conner flips a bait in the bush and sets the hook on a 4 ½-pounder. It was the biggest fish of the day,” Sands said.
“Obviously, conditions today were different from practice; it was overcast with a little bit of chop from the wind and rain, but we threw some baits in areas that we knew there would be a lot of fish in,” said Dimauro, noting their fruitful practice. “We were seeing a lot of fish. The water here is incredibly clear.
“It was harder to sight fish for them today, but we knew they were there. We were able to catch some of those fish we had been seeing. There are empty beds everywhere. I’d say that for every five beds we saw, one of them might have a fish still on it.”
The Kansas State team said practice clued them in on what the fish were doing, but they pretty much just “went fishing.”
“We had about 10 or 12 spots we picked out from practice and just ran a rotation,” Andrie said. “We fished anything that would look good. If they were there, they were there.”
The team caught a limit in the first 20 minutes and then upgraded by ounces until they caught two of their 4-pound class fish in the afternoon.
“We had one key bite to fill our limit in the morning,” Blanton said. “Then we upgraded by ounces for about three hours. Then with 30 minutes to go, we had two really key bites (4-pounders). The afternoon is when we got our bigger bites.”
Conditions will change for Day 2, with the forecast calling for sunny skies and temperatures climbing from a morning low near 50 to the lower 70s by afternoon. Dimauro believes his team needs about 15 pounds to make Saturday’s championship.
“It’s going to be completely different conditions tomorrow, but it will be like the days we had in practice,” he said.
“We’re confident we can key something together — just kind of roll with it and keep the same game plan. We know we’re going to be around some fish, but we’ll just have to figure out what they want each day. We saved quite a few fish. We have several on bed that we want to hit.”
And they know that even with another slow start, they have to keep their heads in the game because the bite can turn on like it did today.
“No matter where we’re sitting, we know it can all happen so fast,” Dimauro said.
The big bass of the day were 5-9 bass landed by the Blue Mountain College team of Isaac Duncan and Fisher Young and Luke Mason and Justin Lane of the University of North Alabama. Duncan and Young are seventh with a total of 16-9, while the UNA team is 77th with 13-8.
It was a good day for many of the of teams, 13 of which brought in more than 16 pounds. There were 15 teams topping 15 pounds and another 30 teams that caught more than 14 pounds. There were 173 limits.
The teams will again launch from Bull Shoals Boat Dock at 6:30 a.m. CT, and the weigh-in there will begin at 2:30 p.m. The Top 12 teams advance to fish on Saturday, and the Top 20 teams will qualify for the College National Championship, with the end prize one berth to the 2020 Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods after a College Bracket fishoff.