The first stop of the Bassmaster College Series took us to Lake Norman in North Carolina. This is where we found that patience and consistency, and good rain suits would be huge components to our success. As we departed from Oklahoma, energy drinks and high hopes of qualifying for the National Championship fueled us to make the grueling 16.5-hour drive.
Surprisingly, we made the trip in one shot and managed to arrive around noon the next day, giving us our first opportunity to wet our lines in this completely foreign body of water. Neither me or my partner, Taylor Hamburger, had ever fished this lake and knew very little about how to approach a primarily spotted bass lake. Our game plan for the upcoming days was to gain as much knowledge about the lake as possible and build a plan, and a couple reliable backup plans to give us the best shot at putting 5 decent fish in the boat every day.
As our official practice days rolled around we began to slowly figure the fish out and eliminate water by idling and studying everything the Lowrance units graphed. By the end of practice, we had built a few patterns we felt would produce during the tournament. We found fish congregated around brush piles in 25 feet of water and used 5/16 oz. jigs to manage a few bites. We also found a marina that served as a fish release spot for a majority of local tournaments held on Lake Norman, and these fish were highly pressured, but would eat a ¼ oz. WOO! Tungsten shaky head. I threw this shaky head on a Favorite Rods 7’ medium-fast action “Jack Hammer” spinning combo backed by Kast King 10 lb. braided line with an 8 lb. test fluorocarbon leader. Another pattern we developed was by going into the backs of creeks, where the water was stained, and slow rolling an underspin with a Bass Assassin Boss Shiner in the albino shad color or cranking the new MR-6 by Bill Lewis in the blood craw color.
Day 1 proved that the tournament wasn’t going to be easy and left us sitting in 51st place with a weight of 8 lbs. and 13 oz. The forecast for the next couple of days was consistent rain and a high that never exceeded 40 degrees. The weather didn’t faze us and a rough start spurred us to give it everything we had the next day. So we set out with one goal in mind: a comeback.
Day 2 was like a switch flipped, and we managed to have 5 fish in the livewell before 8:30 a.m., all of which exceeded the size of the previous day’s fish. So we set out to look for big bites to cull and get rid of our smaller fish. When it was time to head in for weigh-in we had 5 good fish in the boat and hope of jumping up the leader board. We ended up weighing the biggest bag of day 2 and jumped to 2nd place with 15 lbs. and 14 oz.
Day 3 was narrowed down to the best of the best, but with a local BFL launching up the lake, we knew fishing wasn’t going to be any easier with the added pressure. We raced to our first spot and immediately began landing fish. As the day wore on we had a decent limit, but couldn’t seem to get any big bites like the day before. Time ran out and we cruised into weigh-in and waited in line to see what the day had produced. A few teams caught giant bags and managed to move up the leader board. However, we were one of the few that slipped a little and landed in 5th place.
This tournament taught me more than anything that time, dedication, and persistence are the keys to success in fishing. We didn’t manage a win, but when you consider we drove across the country and fished an entirely new body of water, you should know that we earned every bit of that 5th place finish. The second Bassmaster College Series event will be held on Smith Lake in Alabama, on March 21st-23rd.