Tennessee and Missouri State tie for lead in opening round of Bassmaster College Series event at Clarks Hill

Grant Dohle and Jake Mantovani of Missouri State University, along with Michael Canonica and Seth Proctor of University of Tennessee caught five-bass limits of 21 pounds, 3 ounces to share the Day 1 lead at the Strike King Bassmaster College Series at Clarks Hill Reservoir presented by Bass Pro Shops.

In the season opener for the College Series’ new Lunkers Trail on this 71,000-acre Savannah River fishery, dense morning fog prompted B.A.S.S. officials to postpone takeoff by two hours.

Once the event was underway, Canonica and Proctor, both sophomores, fished the mid-lake area, where they found the water color they favored.

“It was stained — not dirty — but not too clear,” Canonica said. “It was similar to what we fish back home and it suits our strength.”

Anchoring their bag with a 6-2, Canonica and Proctor fished brushpiles in 10 feet. They narrowed down their search to five structures and threw a mix of slower-moving baits and reaction baits.

“The reaction baits worked best,” Canonica said. “The key was putting our bait in front of the bass as many times as possible.”

Canonica said they had most of their weight by about 1:30 p.m. and made a final cull — a small increase of a few ounces — right before heading to weigh-in.

“We fished everything one time,” Canonica said. “We took our time and covered everything thoroughly.”

Canonica said their big fish came bearing a gift.

“When we caught that 6-2, it had a jerkbait in its mouth,” he said. “It was a fresh jerkbait; I might have to throw it tomorrow.”

Dohle, a junior and Mantovani, a freshman, fished Clarks Hill’s mid-lake to lower end. After a dismal round of scouting, their opening day’s productivity proved pleasantly surprising.

“We actually had a really bad practice, but we had an area where we knew there were some good quality fish, so that’s why we went there,” Dohle said.

The anglers also did their work around brushpiles, but their day required more mobility. Targeting structures in 15 to 17 feet, they worked about 20 to 25 brushpiles to catch their weight.

“We didn’t have much of a morning bite with the fog delay; it was more midday,” Dohle said. “We had a limit of 19 1/2 by 12:30, then we made a good cull at the end of the day and that got us up to 21-3.”

Relying heavily on their Garmin LiveScope, Dohle and Mantovani caught bass on a jig and a Damiki rig. The key, Dohle said, was reading fish and making the necessary adjustments.

“We’re from Missouri and we fish Table Rock Lake a lot, so we know how to adjust and make the fish react,” Dohle said.

Anderson Jones of Lander University in Greenwood, S.C., competed solo and placed third with 19-12.

Tucker Cory and Michael Witherup of the University of Montevallo (Ala.) are in the lead for Big Bass honors with a 7-3. Cory and Witherup placed 11th with 17-15.

The takeoff for Friday’s final round is scheduled for 7 a.m. ET from Wildwood Park in Appling, Ga. Weigh-in will be held back at the park at 3 p.m.

The event is being hosted by Visit Columbia County, GA.