In the 2019 Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Tournament Presented by Bass Pro Shops on Lewis Smith Lake in north Alabama, March 21-23, 2019, 250 boats from 74 colleges in 28 states competed. At the end of the tournament, two young men from Michigan’s Grand Valley State University, Lucas Murphy, 22 years old from Walker, Michigan, and his partner 19-year-old Mitchell Gunn from Fenton, Michigan, stood on the winners’ stand. They wore their school’s jerseys, trimmed in Mossy Oak’s Element Agua. They won $2500 for their team at the three-day event with a total of 52 pounds, 7 ounces of bass. Mossy Oak wanted to know how this team of collegiate bass anglers pulled off this win, which qualified them to compete for the Collegiate National Championship, and why the team decided to include Mossy Oak Elements Agua on their tournament jerseys.
“On the final day of competition, around 1 p.m., we had already caught two bass, back to back, under a specific dock on Lewis Smith Lake,” Lucas Murphy says. “I skipped my Keitech Tennessee shad-colored swim bait with a 1/4-ounce BiteMe round jighead back under the dock. As the bait fell, I got a heavy bass bite. I yelled to my partner, Mitchell Gunn, ‘This is a big one!’ We had just caught a big largemouth about 30 minutes earlier, and I thought that this bass probably was another largemouth. However, when Mitchell finally got the bass in the net, I told him, ‘Wow! That’s a big spot.’ That spotted bass weighed 5 pounds, 9 ounces.”
Lewis Smith Lake has produced several world’s record spotted bass in years past, and all but two of the bass that Murphy and Gunn caught in the Smith Lake tournament were spotted bass. The two anglers had done their homework on the lake before the tournament began. They knew both spotted and largemouth bass lived in crystal-clear Smith Lake, and that in March, the bass would be in pre-spawn mode. Murphy and Gunn caught all their bass they weighed in on 3.3- and 3.8-inch Keitech swim baits with a BiteMe ball-head jig on 7-pound-test line.
In late March, light line, spinning tackle and small lures historically have produced suspended bass on the sheer rock ledges at Smith. That’s the pattern Gunn and Murphy started fishing first. However, that pattern changed to fishing boat docks.
“We held our boat in 60-80-foot-deep water with the boat docks over 40-80-foot water,” Murphy reports. “But we discovered that the bass were suspended no more than 10-feet below the docks. We only caught two largemouths during this tournament, with the rest of the bass spotted bass.”
The two young men from Michigan couldn’t resist leaving their university a day early to arrive in Knoxville, Tennessee, to see the last weigh-in at the 2019 Bassmaster Classic and watch Mossy Oak Fishing Team member Ott DeFoe not only win the Classic in his hometown but also fulfill his dream of a lifetime.
“My mom and dad and Mitchell’s dad and grandpa got in their cars on Friday night, March 22, once they knew we’d made the finals,” Lucas explained. “They were at our final weigh-in, and their being there and seeing Mitchell and I win meant so much to both of us.”
When asked about why the GVSU fishing team featured Mossy Oak Elements Agua on the team’s jerseys, Lucas replied, “Two of the members of our fishing team are Nicholas and Jackson VanDam. Nicholas came to the team with a design for our jerseys that his mom, Sherry VanDam, had created for his dad’s jersey and asked what we thought about the pattern. Obviously we wanted to wear the same jersey that the greatest bass angler who’s ever walked this planet wears. We thought that would be cool, since the VanDams, along with our families, friends, others and GVSU sponsor us and help us to hold fundraisers to pay for the team’s expenses.”
Today Lucas Murphy is in his senior year at GVSU, will graduate with a double major in marketing and accounting and hopes to start fishing Bassmaster Opens immediately. Twenty percent of the anglers on the Bassmaster Elite Series today have come through the collegiate bass-fishing team circuits. There is wisdom in going to college, fishing and gaining fishing expertise, getting your degree and becoming a bass pro.
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