Written by B.A.S.S. Photo by Shaye Baker
On a tough final day Josh Bensema and Matthew McArdle of Texas A&M University needed only two bass weighing 3 pounds, 10 ounces to claim the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship presented by Bass Pro Shops.
The Aggies overcame a 6-ounce deficit and a 50-minute delay on Saturday morning to surpass the second-round leaders — Tyler Rivet and Allyson Marcel of Nicholls State University — and take home the biggest prize in college bass fishing.
“When we caught a keeper bass right away, we were very confident,” Bensema said of their fishing day. “To go almost the rest of the day with no fish was tough.” In fact, the pair’s only other bass was caught with only minutes of fishing time remaining.
“Catching that smallmouth with five minutes to go was important. Matt looked at me and said ‘I think you just caught the winning fish.’ It turns out I did.”
“I still feel like I’m dreaming,” Bensema said. “I’m sure it will hit me soon, but I’m trying to keep it in the back of my mind right now because I need to keep my focus aimed at the bracket.”
The champions will have little time to celebrate their team title. The Carhartt Bassmaster College Classic Bracket phase of the competition, which determines the lone Carhartt College Series qualifier for the 2016 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro, begins Sunday morning.
Members of the Top 4 teams will fish individually in head-to-head bracket competition over the next three days. The winner earns a berth in the Classic to be held in Tulsa, Okla., March 4-6.
Over the course of the national championship, Bensema and McArdle caught eight bass for a three-day total of 18-4. The majority of their fish came on a topwater frog, although a jig accounted for some keepers as well. Bass were biting best for the A&M anglers in the morning hours, which made the delayed start Saturday all the more painful for them.
Bensema did not have the proper paperwork for his boat insurance, a requirement under B.A.S.S. rules, and it took nearly an hour to meet that requirement.
“We got a little rattled this morning, and I made about 100 hundred phone calls,” McArdle said. “We just decided to keep our heads up and just go fishing because you fish much better when you don’t stress yourself out.”
The tough nature of this fishery and the pressure that Lake DuBay has received over the entire week culminated with only two of the five teams in the finals boating keeper bass on Saturday. The University of Minnesota, like Texas A&M, only boated two keepers and fell short of the title by 1 pound. Trevor Lo and Chris Burgan of Minnesota claimed second place after weighing 5 pounds, 8 ounces on Saturday and finishing with a three-day total of 17 pounds, 4 ounces.
The Friday leaders from Nicholls State University, Rivet and Marcel, didn’t catch a keeper bass on Saturday and dropped to third overall, but they still punched their ticket to fish in the Carhartt Bassmater College Series Classic Bracket. The pair boated six fish for 15 pounds over three days.
Rivet and Marcel won a $250 Bass Pro Shops gift card for winning the Bass Pro Shops/Nitro Big Bag award with an 8-pound, 7-ounce catch on Friday.
Minnesota’s Lo and Burgan claimed the Carhartt Big Bass award for a 3-13 smallmouth. They will receive a $500 Carhartt gift card.
Jake Whitaker and Andrew Helms from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte claimed the fourth and final spot in the Classic Bracket.
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