Auburn duo maximizes offshore bites to take Day 1 lead at Bassmaster College Series Championship on Pickwick Lake
COUNCE, Tenn. —

Taking advantage of the increase in current generation, the Auburn University duo of Tucker Smith and Hayden Marbut claimed the Day 1 lead at the 2023 Strike King Bassmaster College National Championship at Pickwick Lake presented by Bass Pro Shops by catching a limit of largemouth weighing 20 pounds, 8 ounces.

They hold a 9-ounce lead over Missouri State’s Aric Szambelan and Tyler Flacke, who fell just an ounce shy of breaking the 20-pound mark. Hayden Pirman and Luke Chaddock of West Virginia University are third with 19-9.

In 2020, Smith and Marbut were crowned Bassmaster High School National Champions on Kentucky Lake, leading that event from start to finish. Now, they have teamed up again at Auburn and continue to show they are a winning combination.

“It would be really cool to win both,” Marbut said. “We still have a lot of fishing left to do. We have two more days.”

So far, Pickwick has fished better than many teams had expected. Five bags over 19 pounds hit the scales on the opening day, and if the Top 12 cut was made today, Carson-Newman’s Dylan May and Carson Palmer would be the final team in with 16-15.

The improved numbers likely have a lot to do with the influx of rain from heavy thunderstorms that have moved through the area the last few days.

“(The Tennessee Valley Authority) was pulling about 30,000 (cubic feet per second) all week and they are pulling 50,000 today and are supposed to pull 55,000 tomorrow,” Marbut commented.

While it looked good on paper, there were plenty of lulls throughout the day for the Auburn team. Of the 30 areas they fished, only three produced bites. Still, Smith said the duo landed the majority of their weight by 9 a.m.

“We bounced around and hit a bunch of places, but it was tough during the midday,” Smith said. “We made one stop at the end of the day and caught a big one.”

Fishing mainly offshore ledges, the duo has found schools in about 12 feet of water all the way out to 20 feet of water. Of those schools, they said three are better than the rest, one in shallow water and the other two deep.

To catch their bass, they have been rotating through the standard ledge-fishing arsenal, baits like deeper-diving crankbaits, swimbaits and jigs.

“We have some that not everyone found,” Marbut said. “We scanned the whole practice and looked for some sneakier stuff that not everyone would be on.”

Using forward-facing sonar, Marbut and Smith have noticed most of their bass have been relating to the bottom of the ledge. Many of their spots don’t have baitfish around — and when a ball of shad does show up, it scatters the bass.

“We’ll see some bait come over the top of them and the bass will start chasing them. It kind of pulls them off the place, so it’s not really the best,” Smith said.

It was a slow start for Szambelan and Flacke. But when showers moved out of the area around midday, the bass began to bite and the Missouri State duo was able to take advantage.

“We stayed calm, kept our heads up and kept fishing,” Flacke said. “We had our final bag around 1.”

Similar to Smith and Marbut, Szambelan and Flacke are focusing on offshore ledges, finding more bass in the 12- to 15-foot range. A couple of baits, including a drop shot and small swimbait, produced most of their weight.

“We have a handful of spots, but they are all getting pressured by a bunch of different guys,” Szambelan said. “We found seven schools in practice. They were pretty good when we found them, but we were only able to hit one or two today.”

Forward-facing sonar has helped them pick off some of the bass that are suspended or roaming. Szambelan said it has been about 50/50 as to whether the bass were set up on the bottom or suspended.

While it didn’t go exactly as they planned, Pirman and Chaddock caught their 19-9 Day 1 limit in areas where they found success during practice.

After a lull, the West Virginia duo discovered a new pattern and was able to make a couple of key culls. They switched between deep and shallow areas and power fished with a couple of baits.

With more sun in the forecast Friday, they hope the secondary pattern will hold up.

Cole and Clay Taylor from Lander University in South Carolina caught a 7-12 largemouth to take Big Bass of the Day honors.

The full field will take off from Pickwick Landing State Park at 6 a.m. CT and return at 2 p.m. for weigh-in. The field will be cut to the Top 12 after the Day 2 weigh-in. Full coverage will be available on

The tournament is being hosted by Tour Hardin County.