TOY race sparks added interest in college tour

JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Interest in college bass fishing certainly has been on the rise, but it really has entered the fans’ consciousness this year.

There are several reasons for that, among them B.A.S.S. starting a college “tour” in 2018 with open registrations rather than holding a handful of regional tournaments as it did in the past. There also is a crop of younger anglers who sharpened their teeth in the college ranks and now have found success at higher levels of competition.

But the addition of a Team of the Year competition seems to have played a large part in piquing bass anglers’ interest as well. Competitors in each of the four tour stops this year are being awarded points based upon their performances, which truly has provided a barometer of “Who’s Hot?” and “Who’s Not?” for the anglers, their families and classmates across the U.S.

The combination of these factors is on display this week at the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Eastern Tour presented by Bass Pro Shops. In all, a whopping 263 tandems from 125 schools competed, with anglers hailing from 31 different states. Those numbers are eye-catching, but they are not unprecedented (tour stops at Louisiana’s Toledo Bend Reservoir in January and Alabama’s Pickwick Lake in April drew equally impressive participation.)

With the third of four tour stops wrapping here Saturday afternoon on Cherokee Lake, many eyes are on the Team of the Year race and how standings could look after weigh-in is complete.

Unofficial results following Day 2 of the Eastern Tour stop show Tyler Craig and Spencer Lambert of the University of Louisiana-Monroe with a very slim lead over Bethel University’s Brian Pahl and John Garrett.

The north Louisiana duo, however, fell just outside of Friday’s cut to 32; finishing an ounce back and 33rd overall. Pahl and Garrett, meanwhile, are in eighth place here and will fish Saturday. They will pick up additional points for the showing and are almost certain to pass Craig and Lambert in the Team of the Year (TOY) standings with one event remaining (at California’s Clear Lake on May 23-25.)

But as tournament director Hank Weldon said, the “cream has risen to the top” in the TOY standings, and there is sure to be movement throughout the standings until the last bass is weighed Saturday.

Consider: Of the 32 teams remaining in the Eastern Tour event, 11 are ranked among the Top 27 teams in the TOY standings. That number includes five of the Top 10 teams in the TOY race, as well.

“Some of these teams have a Top 3 or so already this year,” Weldon said. “When you look at who’s in the hunt right now (in the TOY standings) it just makes sense. These are the teams who have been successful this year. More often than not, those teams were successful the year before too.

“So the ranking measures a team’s consistency, and it’s interesting to see just who’s there.”

Though Craig and Lambert didn’t survive the cut on Cherokee, they do plan to make the 2,130-mile haul west from northeast Louisiana to Clear Lake. And they’re not alone, Weldon said while ticking off a list of teams near the top of the TOY standings who also plan to travel lengthy distances for the final regular season tour stop – another sign that the chance to be the tour’s Team of the Year is a significant attraction to anglers.

College anglers can add 50 more points to their season total if they compete in a B.A.S.S. Nation state qualifying tournament. Weldon said those points will be calculated into team totals sometime in June, meaning that final standings could remain fluid for a few weeks after the stop at Clear Lake is complete.

When the final numbers are tallied an a Team of the Year has been crowned, at least 30 of the top college tandems will compete again in July on Oklahoma’s Lake Tenkiller for the college national championship.

It’s exciting proposition for anglers, but also for tournament organizers.

“These guys want to be a part of our tournaments,” Weldon said. “They look at a guy like Jordan Lee who was a successful college angler. He won a college bracket championship in 2014 and got a chance to fish in a Bassmaster Classic. He’s fished in four Classics now, and he’s won two of them.

“These college guys see that he he’s been successful at the highest level and they feel like if they can compete here, that they have a chance to compete up there too.”

Other teams high in the TOY standings that will fish on Saturday include Nathan Bell and Cole Sands of Bryan College who teamed to win a college event on Cherokee Lake last year. They currently (though unofficially) are in fifth place in both the tournament and TOY standings.

Sloan Pennington and Hunter McCarty of the University of North Alabama are seventh in TOY and 22nd on Cherokee, while Thad Simerly and Ethan Shaw of Bryan College are ninth in the TOY race and 14th here.

Auburn’s Logan Parks and Lucas Lindsay are 10th in TOY and in sixth place in the Eastern Tour event. Cully Scroggins and Nathon Portch of Bethel University are in first place in the tournament on Cherokee and are in 11th place in the most current TOY standings.

Saturday’s final launch in the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series presented by Bass Pro Shops began at 6:15 a.m. EST at the TVA Dam Ramp on Cherokee Lake. A drive-through weigh-in will begin at 3 p.m. at Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City, Tenn.

The winning tandem in the Eastern tour stop on Cherokee will win $1,500 for their school's fishing team. The duo that wins Team of the Year honors will collect $1,000 for their school, a Humminbird Solix Fishfinder and assorted gear from Carhartt.