The Top 4 teams from the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship set out on Lake Chatuge today in a head-to-head bracket-style competition, which pitted anglers one-on-one. The competitors were Zach Parker, Bethel University, versus Jackson Blackett of the University of Louisiana at Monroe (ULM), Brett Preuett of ULM versus Matt Roberts of Bethel University, Jake Whitaker of University of North Carolina (UNC)-Charlotte versus Tennessee Tech’s Robert Giarla and Bentley Manning against Andrew Helms of UNC-Charlotte.
Anglers across the board reported tougher-than-usual fishing conditions, many citing the warmer weather, and more importantly, the pressure that the fishery has received for the past seven days as reasons for a declining bite. All 83 teams practiced for three days then endured the three-day championship, which could be considered ample fishing pressure. Now, these last four anglers must find a way to make Chatuge’s bait-conditioned fish eat again tomorrow.
The matchups and results:
Robert Giarla (Tennessee Tech), 5-4 vs. Jake Whitaker (UNC-Charlotte), 2-3
Despite being completely unfamiliar with Chatuge’s deep, clear water, Florida native and Tennessee Tech student Robert Giarla managed to best Jake Whitaker, who had just claimed the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship title with teammate Andrew Helms.
“Today was really a grind, and just like (Whitaker), I fished shallow. I was born and raised in West Palm Beach (Fla.), which has shallow, muddy water with grass everywhere, so I just went and fished how I was comfortable, shallow, and it paid off,” Giarla said. “I’m going to get a game plan going for tomorrow and give it everything that I’ve got.
“Advancing feels awesome. I feel like I’m in the Final Four of the NCAA basketball bracket,” he said. “Words can’t describe it. I’m going to do the same thing again tomorrow, but if it’s different, I’ll switch it up. It doesn’t matter who I’m fishing against, I’m just going to stick to my own game.”
Monday, Giarla will take on Parker of Bethel University.
Zach Parker (Bethel), 10-13 vs. Jackson Blackett (ULM), 0-0
Jackson Blackett had some difficulties with his electronics early on, which left him scrambling to find the spots that he marked in practice. He didn’t weigh in a keeper-length fish today. Parker, on the other hand, was the only angler who managed to bring a limit to the scales and bested the whole field.
“This is awesome, things just kind of fell into place,” Parker said. “I fished a ton of new stuff today. The spot I caught the largemouth at, I don’t know why I stopped there, but I did. I was really looking for a new spot for tomorrow because our stuff is getting kind of beat down.
“I can tell a difference between practice and now, in terms of how many fish are still out there. I had to go run new stuff, and I even spent an hour scanning, not even fishing,” he said. “But, all in all, tomorrow is a totally different day, and I plan on making the same rotation as I did today.”
Parker will face Tennessee Tech’s Giarla Monday.
Brett Preuett (ULM), 7-1 vs. Matt Roberts (Bethel), 2-5
Brett Preuett had the second highest total weight today, weighing four fish while his opponent Matt Roberts scored a single bass, leaving him shy of advancing to the semifinal. Despite the tough bite, Preuett managed to keep his head in the game
“Fishing’s in my blood, and no matter how hard things get, I’ll always keep after it,” he said. “This has been an incredible experience that I’ll never forget, regardless of what happens.
“You can tell the pressure is getting to the fish, because I used to be able to go down a stretch of docks and catch a few, and I don’t think neither me nor Jason caught one off of our best spot,” he said. “I knew it was going to be tough, so I tried to get a limit with some schooling fish and missed a few, but I think I’ll just have to see what tomorrow brings and kind of roll with the day as it progresses.”
Preuett will face Tennessee Tech’s Manning Monday.
Bentley Manning (Tennessee Tech), 1-4 vs. Andrew Helms (UNC-Charlotte), 0-0
With Whitaker suffering a defeat at the hands of Giarla, and Helms failing to catch a keeper fish, the National Championship winners have been eliminated from the bracket competition. However, as he drove his Nitro Z-7 back to the dock, Tennessee Tech’s Bentley Manning was certain that he was going home, since he could only muster a single bass today.
“It was ridiculously tough today, and I only figured something out about 30 minutes before weigh-in, and I caught that fish about 10 minutes before I had to come in,” Manning said. “Until 2:15, I only had three bites. Then I figured something out, got 10 bites in 30 minutes but could only land the one; I looked like a fool out there. Since I could only catch the one, I figured I was going home.”
Manning takes on Preuett of ULM in Monday’s semifinal.
The Final Four anglers will launch Monday at 6:45 a.m. ET from The Ridges Resort and Marina where they will fish until 2:45 p.m. and then weigh in to determine which two anglers will go head-to-head in the final for a berth in the 2015 Bassmaster Classic, set to be held next February on South Carolina’s Lake Hartwell.
Image courtesy Shaye Baker/Bassmaster