Stillwater News Press

Sports

July 26, 2012

Oklahoma State fishing duo leads college national tournament

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — On another day when the temperature hit triple digits, Oklahoma State’s Zack Birge and Blake Flurry maintained a big lead in the three-day Carhartt Bassmaster College National Championship, even though their catch weighed only 4 pounds, 4 ounces Thursday. After catching 17 pounds 4 ounces of fish on Day 1, they didn’t have to do much.

“We kind of got to relax today,” said Birge. “I wasn’t worried about catching a big fish.”

OSU goes into the finals with a 4-pound lead over the University of Alabama’s Dustin Connell and Logan Johnson and Murray State’s Justin Graben and Vincent Campisano, who are tied for second with a weight of 17 pounds, 8 ounces. Auburn University brothers Jordan and Matt Lee are in fourth place with 16 pounds, 10 ounces weight in fish.

University of Arkansas fishermen Mook Miller and Kyle Billingsley withstood the heat and jumped 10 places in the standings to qualify for Friday’s Top 5 final of the championship.

“Our goal was 10 pounds today, and we missed it by just a little bit,” Billingsley said.

The two Little Rock natives knew they had some ground to make up after weighing only four bass totaling 5 pounds, 6 ounces on the Arkansas River Wednesday.

The tournament moved to Lake Maumelle Thursday, and the University of Arkansas team was one of only six to catch a five-bass limit. Their bag weighing 9 pounds, 2 ounces was just 2 ounces short of the biggest of the day, and it vaulted them from 15th to fifth.

“We caught them in 1 inch of water all day long,” Billingsley said. “They were behind the grass on the bank. It was a fun day of fishing.

“We saw only two other teams fishing shallow. We practiced the heck out of fishing deep, but I’m glad we didn’t have to go to it.”

Unlike last year, when the two-day totals were zeroed going into the finals, the weights will carry over when the tournament moves Friday to Hurricane Lake, a 326-acre private reservoir in nearby Benton.

Exactly 7 pounds separates first from fifth place, but Hurricane holds the possibilities of some much bigger bags than have been caught from the Arkansas River and Lake Maumelle during the previous two days.

Jordan Lee was on the Auburn team that finished second to Stephen F. Austin in last year’s College National Championship, and he was on the Auburn team in the 2010 tournament as well. Understandably, he knows nothing about Hurricane Lake, but he’s compiled considerable knowledge of central Arkansas, midsummer bass fishing over the past two years.

“No matter where we go, I think I’ve got a pretty good understanding of what it takes to catch fish this time of year here,” said Lee, who caught a 4 pound 15 ounce bass that took the daily Carhartt big bass honors Thursday.

And he’d like another chance at the national championship, after a 4-pounder jumped the hook in the final minutes last year. That bass would have given Auburn the title.

“Everybody loses fish,” Lee said. “But that one was special. We’d been catching them on football jigs all day. That 4-pounder was halfway to the boat when it came off.”

After the national collegiate team championship is decided Friday, members of the Top 4 teams will fish from tournament-ready boats and will be seeded individually in a two-day bracket-format tournament at 960-acre Beaverfork Lake in Conway, Ark., to determine which collegiate angler earns a berth in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic.

Morning and afternoon sessions Saturday at Beaverfork will whittle the eight-man field to two finalists, who will go head-to-head Sunday at Beaverfork.

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