Justin Witten and Travis Cox didn’t characterize Friday as a great day of fishing on Smith Mountain Lake. But if Saturday’s fishing is any better for the Radford University tandem, their opponents are in big trouble.
Witten and Cox brought a five-fish limit to the scales for 19 pounds, 1 ounce, seizing a nearly 5-pound lead on the first day of the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series East Super Regional and making the Highlanders the team to beat in this weekend’s two-day event.
“It really wasn’t a great day,” said Witten after Friday’s weigh-in at Bridgewater Plaza Marina. “We’ve done better in practice this week but couldn’t seem to get the big ones to bite today.”
That probably qualifies as an understatement. They didn’t catch the Carhartt Big Bass, an honor that went to North Carolina State’s Tyler Faggart with a 5-6 fish, but their average pushed 4 pounds.
Clay Ross and Nick Preskitt of Virginia Tech landed in second place Friday with 14-5, while fellow Hokies Mark Condron and David Bryant took third on the leaderboard with 13-14. Mack Walters and Josh Cameron of Mississippi State University were fourth with 13-7, and N.C. State’s Faggart and Tyler Mayhew were fifth with 12-13.
Witten and Cox caught a couple of fish casting to main-lake points, but their most success came on bedding bass, which they found in 2 to 6 feet of water. But both anglers expressed disappointment that they couldn’t entice bites from some of the bigger bedding bass they’d found during practice.
Weather likely played a role in that. Temperatures dropped into the upper 20s Thursday morning, and although it didn’t turn quite as cold Friday morning, Witten and Cox surmised the cooler temperatures prevented fish from fully committing to spawning beds.
“The little fish are pulling up,” Cox said, “and the big ones are starting to pull up.”
Witten said the pair watched a lot of larger fish cruising in the shallows but didn’t find as many bigger bass on the beds as they’d seen earlier in the week. He said a key to their success is local knowledge about where the bigger bass tend to spawn.
Radford is located in Radford, Va., which lies in the Blue Ridge Mountains about 1 ½ hours southwest of Smith Mountain Lake, and Witten and Cox have fished frequently on the impoundment. Radford is also a close neighbor of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., and the Highlanders haven’t lost sight of the budding bass fishing rivalry.
“Sure, it would be nice,” Witten said when asked about beating nearby Virginia Tech. “No matter the size of the school, you can come out here and compete in fishing.”
While Witten and Cox found their success mostly with bedding bass, second-place team Ross and Preskitt caught the majority of their weight by casting a smorgasbord of lures around main-lake points. They said they caught fish on three different baits before 9 a.m., then had a three-hour period with no bites. They put a bedding fish in the boat after noon to upgrade their total.
“We had some bed fish lined up, but when we went to them, they were either gone or we couldn’t see them,” Preskitt said. “The ones we did find on beds were small ones.”
Their Virginia Tech teammates, Condron and Bryant, went with a bed fishing approach for their third-place total. They found their beds in 6 to 7 feet of water, marked them with marker buoys and then kept some distance between the beds and their boat.
“We threw a little bit of everything to get them to bite,” Condron said.
Saturday’s forecast calls for a morning low in the 40s with temperatures gradually climbing into the lower 70s by mid-afternoon, so a sightfishing bite should figure prominently in the action.