MAUMELLE, Ark. After two days of fishing what some of the anglers described as painfully tough water, the Under Armour College Bass National Championship is going to be decided Friday outside of Little Rock with zeroed weights on a mystery "lake" that promises big bass.
Richard Peek and Adam Murphree of Auburn, who qualified in first place with the largest bag of the tournament on Thursday (14.08), say they're ready.
"We're used to catching big fish in Alabama," Murphree said.
Peek added: "I've spent a lot of time fishing private, stocked ponds, so I'm ready. I even have a couple ponds on my own."
The Tigers, who finished with 24.07 pounds over two days, said they caught all their fish on one spot Friday, dragging a jig slowly over a rock pile 30-feet deep. Murphree said he noticed the spot on the map before getting on Maumelle and decided to give it a try in practice.
Peek said the fish would come around on the edge of the rock every 45 minutes to feed and they'd catch one or two. Six hours on the spot gave them only six fish on Day Two, but they were the right fish.
"We would literally just ride around on the trolling motor for 45 minutes guarding the spot," Peek said. "Then we'd go back and they'd be biting."
Lake Maumelle has been hosting two regular tournaments a week since April, and Auburn's bag would have been in the top five bags caught all season. And their kicker fish, in the neighborhood of 5 pounds, would have most likely been the biggest fish caught.
"I just had a feeling about that spot today," Murphree said. "I thought we'd be able to catch a big one there early and sure enough, we caught that big one right off.
"It was just the spot of a lifetime."
Feeding Auburn's motivation to do well was the fact that SEC and state rival Alabama led Day One with 12.72 pounds.
"We weren't going to let that stand," Murphree said of the Crimson Tide's lead. Alabama also qualified for the final in second place with 6.27 pounds on Thursday and 18.99 overall.
Rounding out the top 5 were Faulkner University's Kyle Tindol and Michael Eubanks in third (17.65), Texas A & M University's Andrew Shafer and Scott Edmonds in fourth (14.90) and University of Arkansas-Little Rock's Jeremy Reese and Trent Gephardt.
All three teams from the state of Alabama were able to hold their top spot and Texas A&M followed suit. The only team to drop out of the cut from Day One was the University of Tennessee-Martin, who caught 8.79 pounds on Wednesday but didn't get a single keeper in the boat on Thursday.
Edmonds of Texas A&M said he and partner Shafer did not feel comfortable coming in with only three fish on Thursday, thinking it would leave them slightly out of the cut.
"We had our three by 10:30 a.m., but we thought we would need one more," Edmonds said.
That fish never came, but it doesn't matter because when the anglers take off at 6 a.m. Friday morning, everyone will be at zero with eight hours to win a national championship for their school.
"We were hitting our knees thanking God when we saw we were in," Shafer said.
The teams will be fishing a five-hole course, with an hour and 20 minutes on each hole and 10 minutes in-between. They will be fishing out of Triton Boats provided by College Bass. The boats will be specific to an area, which means the anglers will gather up their tackle and move from boat to boat as they finish a hole.
"We spent 50 hours practicing and we were going to be very disappointed if we lost it today after as hard as we've worked," Edmonds said. "From what I hear, this new water has big fish and we're excited about that.
"We're from Texas and we're used to catching big fish."
Visit CollegeBass.com for full event coverage, including streaming daily weigh-in video of the approximate 108 collegiate bass anglers competing in the 2008 Under Armour College Bass National Championship, July 9-11, in Little Rock, Ark. Tournament coverage will air on ESPNU later this summer. Live weigh-ins are at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday-Friday.