After an 8 hour drive to the east coast town of Richmond, VA, my partner Jacob Miller and I hit the hay in the ultimate college anglers resort, the one and only Super 8. So what’s on the line on the James River this week? That would be to qualify for the Bassmaster Collegiate National Championship on Green River Lake in Kentucky. After the first two days of regional, the field is cut to 20 anglers, where only 13 of those top 20 advance to the Championship. Long story short, this tournament flat out worked out for us. After an incredible practice, we felt confident going into the game.
We had 2 deals going for us. It was post spawn, however a few fish were still guarding fry. We had a patch of cypress trees at the mouth of a decent spawning creek on the main river. Those cypress trees were the equivalent to flipping in the Bass Pro Shops tanks, just not quite as big. With the James being a tidal fishery, the water fluctuates 2′ every 6 hours or so. So as the tide was coming in, we started the morning at cypress trees and typically had a limit by 7:45. How’d we get ’em there? We did what Ohio anglers do best, flippin’! I flipped a Venom Lures Dream Crawl in Junebug while Jacob typically flipped a black senko on a 1/8oz weight. What’d we look for? Slack water. Slack water is huge on tidal fisheries. It’s basically calling your shots wherever the water wasn’t moving behind these large cypress trees.
As the day went on, we completed the 70 mile one way run up the Chickahominy River. The tide was just starting to fall up there, causing the bait to pull out, and causing our kickers to stage on the edge of these grass mats waiting on an easy meal. We picked off 10-15 fish an hour throwing half ounce chatterbaits. So once we racked up our 140 mile trip at the boat ramp, day 1 placed us in 7th place with 14-9. That’s when the killer instinct kicks in, we’re at striking range and it’s up to us how this thing pans out.
Day 2 kicks off, boats 1 and 2 have an ESPN2 camera boat on them so I’m already getting competitive feeling that I should be there! However, with all good things comes the bad. On our way down, due to terrible fog we bottomed out on a gravel flat. As we floated back off we took off back to our cypress trees. Once arriving, we sacked up 13-9 just in those trees. Typically we had 11-12lbs there and ran up to cull with some Florida strain fish. But with our luck, that gravel bar clogged the intake and caused the water pump to clog and the motor to overheat. So we’re 40 miles away, floating down the river, what do we do? Well an hour later, our good friends of Liberty Union hauled myself with our fish back to the weigh in to give us a chance! After I walked the fish across stage, we ended day 2 in 2nd place! Now here come the interviews for TV, Bassmaster, and more. I had to feel guilty at the time, I’m absorbing the fame while my partner is drifting away 40 miles from me. Luckily enough, our families came down and hauled my Triton Mercury combo down to us! After getting Jacob out of the water, we transferred equipment to my boat and called it a night.
Day 3 comes extra early though, we had to get to the ramp a bit early to get hooked up with a mic for the camera crew, so we couldn’t be mad about the sleep getting cut I guess. As we waited on the dock, boat 2 of 20, the good weather came to an end. I swear, we could have flipped my boat upside down and ran in just as much water as we could of upright. After sacking up a quick 12lbs limit in the trees and getting some awesome footage for ESPN2, it was time for some meathead snatchin’!
The Mercury took us up to the grass and we went to work. Chucking our chatterbaits on cranking sticks to get better hooks ups, we started to cull. And with only 15 minutes left, Jacob told me “It’s about to happen.” Just few minutes later I made a side arm to the point in a grass swing and that’s when it’s felt as if my chatterbait had been hit by a Semi. After literally a possible win was on the line, we put our kicker deep in the wells! 70 miles later we load the Triton on the Dodge and head to Virginia Commonwealth University. Let me tell ya, trailered weigh ins, down shut off streets in the middle of a city, are not quite stress relieving. As we sat for a few hours, the nerves built up. It was finally time, we knew we had all 18 of the teams Infront of us beat. The Toyota official truck hooked me up and drove us to the weigh in stage. We got out, grabbed the bag, and headed to the stage with a mini paparazzi of cameramen. Hank Weldon put ’em on the scales and our day three bag went 14-2! Currently in first with one team left, the leaders of the entire tournament, Penn State. Long story short, I feel confident when I say a gravel bar cost us 9 ounces and a 1st place trophy! However, we made the cut for the National Championship and a birth into the Bassmasters Classic!! Thanks for reading and keep checking for updates! -Kyle Waller