WADDINGTON, N.Y. — Sam Houston State University anglers Jackson Carrell and Bryton Kurtz traveled more than 1,700 miles to compete in the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series at St. Lawrence River presented by Bass Pro Shops.
They made it a trip to remember.
Carrell and Kurtz caught 15 bass over three days that weighed a whopping 72 pounds, 13 ounces. That output, which averaged an equally impressive 24-4 limit per day, was enough to top the 149-team field and clinch victory in the fourth and final Bassmaster College Series regular-season tournament of 2019.
The victors also secured a berth in the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship presented by Bass Pro Shops. That tournament, which will feature more than 100 of the top college duos from across the U.S., will be held Aug. 1-3 on Chickamauga Lake in Tennessee.
Carrell and Kurtz entered the final day on the St. Lawrence third among the 12 teams that survived Thursday’s cut. They briefly held the Day 1 lead, but quickly relinquished it on a record-breaking day that saw 85 teams catch at least 20 pounds of bass.
The anglers from Sam Houston, which is located in Huntsville, Texas, stayed near the top of the leaderboard, however, holding second place on Wednesday with a 25-13 limit and then third place on Thursday when they followed with a 22-5 limit.
The key, however, was the 24-11 bag Carrell and Kurtz produced Friday. It was nearly 2 pounds heavier than any other team in the final round — and with first place and 12th place separated by just more than 4 pounds, that bump was significant.
The St. Lawrence smallmouth were spawning this week, and Carrell and Kurtz were among the many teams that caught fish off beds. The water was extremely clear, as well, which made spotting the bass possible in as much as 10 feet of water.
“We started sight fishing on Wednesday morning and by 9:30, we had 25 1/2 pounds,” Carrell said. “That allowed us to go pre-fish for the next day.”
The ability to scout new areas benefited the winners, as foul weather moved into upstate New York on Thursday. With sight-fishing not possible that day, communication was crucial as one angler manned the electronics and the other laid belly down on the deck of the boat waiting for word to set the hook.
“It was absolute teamwork,” Kurtz said. “You’re working a bait with no clue what the fish are doing beneath you.” He said one angler lay on the deck of the boat, looking through a “flogger,” a device for peering underwater, while his partner maneuvered his lure. The spotter would tell his partner where to move the lure and when to pop or jig it, and then a bass would bite.
“It was blind trust,” Carrell said. “We just had to believe in one another.”
Carrell and Kurtz worked riverbanks looking for differences in color, which typically signified an attractive area for bedding bass. They caught most of their fish on Ned Rigs in the PB&J color — which they said resembled the crawfish they spotted in the area — as well as a Z Man Real Deal in green pumpkin and white, which they said matched the gobies in the river.
On Friday, they threw 3.75 Keitech swimbaits toward a bridge that had current moving underneath.
“The smallmouth were sitting in a grass patch, and as soon as bait would come by, they’d snatch it up,” Kurtz said. “So we just slow-rolled those swimbaits and it was what they wanted today.”
The Texas tandem doesn’t have much experience fishing for smallmouth, and with such a long distance between home and upstate New York, they actually considered skipping the trip, despite not yet qualifying for Nationals.
“The weights were so tight, we had to catch every fish we could,” Carrell said. “We were catching 20 pounds a day in practice, and I knew everyone else had to be catching them just as good. They were, but when we had almost 26 pounds, everything kept working for us from there.”
The tournament will go down in the Bassmaster College Series record books.
The Day 1 cumulative weight of 3,031-3 was nearly 600 pounds heavier than the previous one-day record of 2,439-1 set at Arkansas’ Bull Shoals Lake in April. The 149 boats competing this week combined to catch 5687-4, more than 1,000 pounds better than the previous record of 4,631-10, also at Bull Shoals. There were 50 fewer boats entered in the St. Lawrence event, as well, which underscores the week’s bounty.
Logan Parks and Lucas Lindsay had the Day 2 lead, but caught only 11-9 on Friday and slipped to 12th place. They did win the Carhartt Big Bass Award for the 6-7 smallmouth Lindsay caught Wednesday. Minor and Lanier won the Nitro Big Bag Award after posting a 26-6 limit, also on Wednesday.