Bryan College’s beautiful mess

In Thursday’s warm humid pre-dawn air to begin Day 1 at the Carhartt Bassmaster College National Championship on Florida’s Harris Chain, I found myself deeply concerned about angler Mason Cizek’s feet.

The 21-year-old accounting major from Bryan College on Lake Chickamauga in Tennessee was a “hook in the toe” waiting to happen. No less than 25 lures surrounded his sandaled left foot. 

“That pile represents a mix of fishing fast, trying a lot of different lures and having very little experience in Florida,” laughed his partner Jake Lee, the 2017 champion of this event. 

The mess also represents the carefree, fun, passionate attitude of the fast-growing college fishing culture. It’s not about looking good for most of these students, it’s simply about their absolute love of bass fishing – and the associated fellowship that precipitates from traveling on tight budgets.

“I learned these bad habits from my old partner Jacob Foutz,” laughed Lee. “When he and I fished together, our boat was always a disaster.”

Lee and Foutz’s messy habits seemed to pay off. They won the 2017 Carhartt Bassmaster National Championship in Minnesota, and Foutz went on to qualify for the 2018 Bassmaster Classic. Foutz now runs a successful fishing guide business on Lake Chickamauga. 

“My dad is a firefighter back in East Tennessee, and he’s gonna see this article and want to drive down here and tell me to get this disaster cleaned up,” laughed Lee.

When I asked Cizek which of the lures in that heap were likely to get the most playing time, he said, “That’s what makes this mess so special – I have no idea – I’m fishing purely on intuition." 

We all know the power of intuition in tournament bass fishing, and the past success of Bryan College is indisputable. I just hope Cizek makes it through this derby without sticking a topwater in his toe.