MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The road to the College Bass National Championship begins in Montgomery on Saturday with the start of the East Super Regional on the Alabama River. 56 teams from 26 schools blast off under ideal springtime fishing conditions.
"This is the time of year we do really well," said Anthony Coggins from Auburn University. "I found some big sight fish and I'm counting on those fish being there Sunday. Tomorrow I have some spotted bass, so I have two game plans. Targeting spawning bass, whether spotted or largemouth, is what we do well."
The reports from practice have had the keeper-sized spotted bass biting well, so catching a limit should not be a problem for the competitors. The key will be finding the bigger largemouth, which have moved to the bank en masse for their yearly spawning ritual.
With increased pressure from other anglers, especially on Sunday, College Bass competitors will find duplicating a big bag difficult.
"It's going to be a mixed sack or monster largemouth," Coggins said. "I think largemouth would dominate if it wasn't for all the recreation anglers and anglers fishing other events. It will take at least 28 to 30 pounds to win over two days, but that relies on local guys. A largemouth bag over 20 pounds is possible Saturday."
According to Brian Morrow from the University of Alabama, another big factor aside from boat traffic will be the amount of current.
"Current will be a big part of the tournament if they are pulling water Saturday and Sunday," said Morrow, who will go out as the first boat on Day One. "Boat One is kind of a jinx, so I'm probably going to trade it off or slip it in Jeremy's boat."
"Jeremy" is Jeremy Christian, also an Alabama angler. Christian is fishing the Alabama River for the first time, but has found enough quality of fish to predict 16 to 18 pounds a day will win the event.
"Someone might bust a big bag of spots tomorrow, when they pull water, but then struggle Sunday," Christian said. "One interesting thing was that water temps were 70 degrees yesterday, but dropped to 60 degrees when I put in this morning. I didn't have a morning bite at all."
Weather for Saturday's Day One should be typical spring weather, with partly cloudy skies and highs pushing into the upper 70s by weigh-in time.
Each two-man team can bring in five bass that measure a minimum of 12 inches in length. Anglers have a large playing field to travel, with over 80 miles of river to navigate. After two days, the team with the heaviest combined total will be crowned East Super Regional champions.
Underlining the race for the tournament title is a little in-state rivalry between Auburn and Alabama. The schools, sending eight and seven teams respectively, have a long tradition of competitiveness across all sports.
Lately, Alabama has been getting the best of Auburn, beating them in three major tournaments including the Bassmaster College Classic in February.
"They can fish, I'll give them that," Auburn University representative Nick Palerino said. "Whether it's baseball, football or fishing, Auburn and Alabama are going to butt heads. It's always going to be one heck of a rivalry."
Alabama's Morrow recognized the rivalry, but was quick to throw in a little trash talk as well.
"Anytime Alabama and Auburn get together, there will be a rivalry, whether it's chess or checkers," Morrow said. "The Bassmaster College Classic wasn't even fair. We almost didn't need to weigh-in our fish. You could just tell on their faces in the pictures they took."
Christian also rubbed in the football victories for Alabama.
"Plus you got the SEC and National Champions in football," Christian said. "You don't even worry (about the rivalry) when you are winning, but all this smack talk will probably get me in trouble and I'll go out and zero tomorrow."
Which team gets the best of the rivalry this week will be decided starting Saturday morning as all 56 teams launch from the Riverwalk Amphitheater at 7:30 a.m. ET, with weigh-ins beginning at 4:30 a.m. ET. For full coverage of the event, including live-steaming video of the launch and weigh-in, log on to CollegeBass.com.