A record-setting field will take to the water Jan. 3-4 for the 2014 Carhartt Bassmaster College Southern B.A.S.S. Regional on Florida’s massive Lake Okeechobee. For the year’s first competition, 129 two-angler teams representing 42 schools throughout the South will vie for prizes and the chance to advance to the National Championship competition to win the title for their college.

“Having a field of this size in the first tournament of 2014 indicates just how quickly our college program is expanding,” said Hank Weldon, college tournament manager. “It’s very rewarding to see more colleges adding fishing teams to their sports’ rosters and giving more young people opportunities to pursue competitive bass fishing. We expect to see continued growth as the year progresses.”

Among the competitors readying for the January tournament are teams from Auburn University at Montgomery (AUM) — the defending National Champions — and teams from eight different Florida schools, including the University of Florida, Florida State University and the University of Central Florida.

College anglers compete for the National Championship title and for cash prizes and contingency prizes from Carhartt, Bass Pro Shops, Power-Pole, Nitro/Tracker and Triton Gold. One major incentive is a shot at a spot in the 2015 world championship of bass fishing.

“These college anglers have a chance to win a berth in the 2015 Bassmaster Classic, the Super Bowl of Bass Fishing,” Weldon said. “It’s the goal of all competitive bass anglers to test their skills against the world’s best in the annual Classic competition. In 2013, Auburn University’s Jordan Lee won the chance to fish in the 2014 Classic coming up in February in Birmingham. That’s a dream come true for a college angler.”

For the biggest field in the history of the Carhartt College program, it’s only fitting that the anglers are fishing one of the largest and best bass fisheries in the country. Lake Okeechobee covers more than 470,000 surface acres and is a legendary tournament destination. In December, it was the site of the Bassmaster Wild Card presented by Star Tron, which was won by Chad Morgenthaler. In 2012, Ish Monroe won an Elite Series event on the lake, topping 100 pounds in just four days.

While much of the rest of the country struggles to stay warm this winter, Lake Okeechobee should be balmy, and the fishing will likely be hot.

Jacob Nummy, who with Tom Frink won the National Championship for Auburn University at Montgomery in 2013, is looking forward to starting the year in competition on a fishery like Okeechobee. Nummy will be in Florida for the tournament from Dec. 26 through Jan. 5 and starts the 2014 school year on Jan. 6.

“It’s the best way to finish off the Christmas break,” Nummy said. “I love Okeechobee this time of year, and it’s nice to get on the spring bite. I’ve been watching the weather, and we’re going to have a new moon when I’m down there. One thing I know about Okeechobee is that the tournament is going to be won on a flipping bite.

“There may be some sight fishing during practice, but I wouldn’t count on it during the tournament. I think the fish are going to be so spooky from practice that the option to sight fish may be there, but I wouldn’t recommend it as a pattern.”

The Carhartt College record weight for a two-day event is 54 pounds, 12 ounces, and it could certainly fall at Okeechobee, where 7- and 8-pound bass abound and 30-pound limits are almost commonplace when the weather cooperates. Less likely to be eclipsed is the College record for big bass, which currently stands at 11-11. Okeechobee produces lots of lunkers, but bass in the 12-pound class are rare.

Image courtesy Shaye Baker/ Bassmaster

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