Early bites carry Montevallo to victory in Bassmaster College Series event at Lake Murray

Throughout Day 2 of the Strike King Bassmaster College Series at Lake Murray presented by Bass Pro Shops, Peyton Harris and Dalton Head thought they were one fish away from claiming their second College Series title.

It turned out that they had all they needed.

The University of Montevallo duo added 20 pounds, 10 ounces on Saturday to their Day 1 total of 23-2 and claimed the victory with a two-day total of 43 pounds, 12 ounces.

“I thought we were going to need the same weight as yesterday,” Head said. “There are so many big fish out here. It is kind of comparable to a Florida lake with how many giants there are. Every spot you pull up to has 20 to 25 pounds on it. We felt we were one bite away and it was a huge surprise we pulled it off today.”

Bryan College’s Bryce DiMauro and Tripp Berlinsky finished second with 42-7 and Elliot Wielgopolski and Aaron Jagdfeld from Adrian College finished third with 41-5.

Harris and Head, who have been fishing together since high school, claimed their first title last season at Cherokee Lake, but a canceled Day 2 left the duo feeling like they still had something to prove.

“It means so much to win a two-day Bassmaster tournament because you legit have to catch them both days,” Head said. “There is no slacking up. You have to catch them both days.”

Not only did they claim a spot in the 2024 Strike King Bassmaster College National Championship presented by Bass Pro Shops and the $6,162 first-place prize, but Harris and Head can now set their sights on the Team of the Year title.

The Montevallo duo knew early in practice they had found quality bass. Whether they could get them to bite would be the question.

“These were probably the smartest fish I have ever fished for,” Harris said. “I knew we were around really big fish, and after Day 1 when we got off to a quick start we knew we had a shot at it.”

After catching over 23 pounds on Day 1 to land in second place, Head and Harris made a detailed plan of moves they needed to make on Day 2.

“We knew we probably weren’t going to get on our starting spot, so we made an ABC plan where we listed our best hole, second best and third best,” Head said. “We couldn’t get on our best hole, so we went to a hole that we didn’t know how good it was, but it looked right.”

That secondary spot provided an early limit weighing about 16 to 17 pounds. From there, bouncing between 30 different spots, they made several key culls that lifted them to their final tally.

“The main thing was getting on a good starting hole,” Head added. “That was the best time to catch them. You could catch them early. But yeah, we ran the whole lake all day long.”

Three-pronged approach

Head and Harris targeted three different types of cover and structure during the event — rock, brush and stumps. Each of those needed to be near a hard break or a channel swing. The majority of their bites came from between 15 and 35 feet of water.

Using Garmin LiveScope, Head and Harris used two different baits. The most effective was a Damiki rig, which they built with a 1/4-ounce Queen Tackle Live Sonar jighead paired with a 3 1/2-inch Z-Man shad-imitating bait.

“You had to work it super slow and just hover it over those bass,” Harris said. “If it was moving fast, they wouldn’t commit to it.”

A Megabass Vision 110 +1 jerkbait was also key. Harris said they weighted the bait down to get it to the desired depth.

“You had to fish that bait really slow too. You had to let them look at it and talk them into biting it,” he added.

Weather throws a curveball

Water temperatures on Lake Murray started around 48 degrees and warmed to as high as 52 Saturday. Day 1 and the beginning of Day 2 were relatively calm, which really helped Head and Harris target their bass. But when rain and storms moved through around midday, the bite suffered.

“It was like they got confused. They didn’t want to eat or move. They didn’t have that get up like they did in previous days,” Head said. “They would actually move to it at a decent speed the first day, but today they were sluggish and didn’t want to eat. It was a grind.”

The weather also took a toll on DiMauro and Berlinsky, as their bite shut down once the nasty weather began.

Freshman duo surprises

In their first college tournament, DiMauro and Berlinsky were the most consistent team, catching 21-0 and 21-7. After landing in fifth on Day 1, the Bryan College team got off to a quick start on Day 2 and culled twice after filling their limit.

“We took advantage of our opportunities,” Berlinsky said. “It was just a great day. The bass we did catch were good quality and we just came up short. For our first tournament together, we were pretty happy with it.”

Throughout the weekend, DiMauro and Berlinsky targeted wood cover like brushpiles and stumps in 15 to 30 feet using their forward-facing sonar. Around brushpiles, DiMauro said the bass would come away from the structure to meet the bait. Around the stumps, however, they didn’t see the bass before they made a cast to them.

“A lot of our bigger bass came around the stumps,” DiMauro said. “We could not see the fish because they were sitting so close to the cover. If we saw a stump, we would throw our Damiki rig to it and we would watch it go down. When the bait got 5 feet above the stump, the bass would rise.”

They built their Damiki rig with a 3/8-ounce Z-Man jighead and a 5-inch Z-Man Scented Jerk ShadZ.

Key audible aids third-place finishers

Around noon, Wielgopolski and Jagdfeld had just one bass in the livewell after their key brushpiles dried up. Instead of continuing down the same path, the Adrian College duo moved to a rock shoal that had a number of stumps and filled a limit weighing 19-13 to add to their 21-8 Day 1 tally. Larger stumps were more productive.

“We could see them and a little bit of magic happened,” Wielgopolski said. “We culled our way up to 19 and a half.”

During the first day, they targeted between 40 and 50 brushpiles in the 15- to 20-foot range.

A Damiki rig was also a key bait for the Adrian College team. Their jighead of choice on Day 1 was a 5/16-ounce VMC Hybrid jighead and a Rapala Freeloader in the albino color, which helped trigger reaction strikes. On Day 2, they downsized to a 3/16-ounce Keitech tungsten ball-head jig with a Great Lakes Finesse Drop Minnow in grape.

UNA duo claims Big Bass

Jake Brown and Walker Brown from the University of North Alabama, who led the first round, caught the big bag of the tournament at 23-14 as well as the Big Bass of the Tournament. The 7-14 lunker largemouth earned the duo $100 in prize money.

This week’s event is being hosted by Capital City Lake Murray County.