For Tennessee Tech University students Joe Slagle and Matt Clay, Lady Luck looks an awful lot like a largemouth bass.
The pair recently placed second in the largest collegiate bass fishing tournament in the country. The BoatU.S. Collegiate Bass Fishing Tournament on Pickwick Lake in Florence, Ala., took place at the end of May and will be broadcast on NBC Sports Outdoors in a few months.
“Competitive bass fishing is 80 percent mental,” said Clay, a mechanical engineering major from Madisonville. “In the back of your mind, you know there are nearly 400 anglers competing for the national title, but you have to stay focused. Confidence is a huge key to success in fishing tournaments.”
“We had film crews around us the first day and a personal film crew the entire second day,” he said. “It was an awesome feeling because you feel like a professional out there.”
Each of the 188 teams got three days on the lake before the tournament started, but both Clay and Slagle had to work and couldn’t make it. They did manage to do some research on the Internet, trolling for information about water conditions and what professional fishers had done on the lake in the past.
Despite their lack of practice, they finished the first day in second place. Their luck prompted dozens of teams to crowd their spot the second day.
“Our fish were so pressured at the start of day two, they didn’t bite at all,” said Slagle, a business major from Bristol. “We kept telling ourselves we could win it one bite and one fish at a time. They finally started coming in later in the day as some of the teams left the area.”
On the last day of the two-day tournament, they had trouble with their boat’s battery. If fish die before they are weighed in, the team can be penalized. The battery trouble meant the water in the holding tank was not circulating properly.
Because they were in the top 10 after the first day, they were in the last group to launch and therefore the last group to weigh in. Though the judges wouldn’t let them weigh in early, the fish were alive when they tried to weigh in, so they weren’t penalized.
“It was our first time fishing the national championship and with no practice whatsoever, coming in second is a pretty big deal to us,” Clay said. “We can’t wait for next year.”
They finished the tournament with a two-day total of 41 pounds, just 4.5 pounds behind the first place team. They won $2,500, a couple pairs of specialized fishing sunglasses and a bag of baits.
The pair also recently finished first in an FLW College Fishing event, winning $5,000 for the TTU bass fishing team on Lake Guntersville in Guntersville, Ala.
Next up for the duo is the National Guard FLW Southeast Conference Championship in the fall. They’re hoping their luck holds and the next tournament will be on the Tennessee River system, so they have home court advantage, Clay said.