UNC Charlotte's Monti and Dunson ride the tide for Bassmaster College Series lead at James River

Jake Monti and Samuel Dunson of UNC Charlotte had high hopes for low water and leveraging that premise delivered a Day 1 limit of 24 pounds, 5 ounces that leads the Strike King Bassmaster College Series event at James River presented by Bass Pro Shops.

As Monti explained, he and Dunson fished a large stretch from the mouth of the Chickahominy River, upstream to the confluence of the James and the Appomattox rivers. Hitting approximately 15 spots, the leaders earned their bites by moving with the tide.

“We let the tide dictate where we fished,” Monti said. “We wanted the lowest water possible, either going out toward low tide or the start of the incoming tide.

“It was outgoing most of the day until about 1:30 and then it came in at the end of the day.”

While the habitat-rich Chickahominy typically hosts a large percentage of tournament fields — especially during the spring — Dunson said he and his partner intentionally avoided the congestion.

“We stayed out of there just to get away from the crowded area,” he said.

Monti and Dunson caught all their bass by flipping black and blue creature baits. Monti said they found wood was most productive on the lower and the incoming tide stages, while spatterdock seemed to ignite as the water rose high enough to flood this emergent vegetation.

“They were tight to the cover, but they were moving around on the cover based on the tide direction,” Monti said. “The key was slowing down across the board. We were being methodical and picking everything apart.

“We were flipping with 25-pound Sunline FC Sniper fluorocarbon to make sure we didn’t get broken off.”

Dunson said he and Monti got 10 keeper bites. They got bit early, but their action was spread throughout the day.

“We got our limit by 8:30, then we continued catching them into the afternoon,” Monti said. “We culled twice in the last 30 minutes. A lot of times, the beginning of the incoming can be really good.”

Carrying a 2-pound lead into the final day, Monti and Dunson are making no assumptions, other than their expectation for what a final-round wrap-up will require. With big Florida-strain largemouth roaming the James River, one cast could make their day — or that of a competing team.

“It was a whole bunch of work today and it won’t be easy tomorrow because we’re not sure how much we have left,” Monti said. “We think we’ll need another 18 pounds and we’ll have to work hard to get that.

“I think we’re going to have to make a pretty good adjustment to get bites.”

Sam Hanggi and Sam Hoesley of Auburn University are in second place with 22-4. Staying close to takeoff, they maximized their fishing time, wrapped up their limit by about 1 p.m. and spent the rest of their day practicing for Saturday’s final round.

“It started off pretty slow and at the end of the day, it started picking up when the water was low,” Hanggi said. “We caught a couple of 4 1/2-pounders late in the day on back-to-back casts.”

Hanggi and Hoesley caught all of their bass on the same reaction bait. Staying off the bank 10 to 15 feet was key to their productivity, while confidence in their presentations kept their options open.

“We weren’t afraid to fish behind people,” Hanggi said. “We knew we had the best presentation for the situation.”

Garrett Walters and Reese Walters of the University of Alabama are in third place with 18-2. The brothers began their day with a long run downriver to the Wards Creek area, where they caught a 3 1/2-pounder on a frog, but left when they determined the tide was too low.

“We ran back up to (the take-off area) and went into a creek,” Garrett said. “We picked up a frog and they started eating. The tide was going out so they were pulled off to the edges of the wood where they were easier to catch.

“We had planned to start in that creek. But when we took off, the tide was still too high. When we got there, it was perfect.”

Throwing a Spro Bronzeye Shad 65 in the killer gill and spooky shad colors, the Walters team anchored their bag with a 6-pounder.

Carson Palmer and Dylan May of Carson-Newman University are in the lead for Big Bass honors with their 8-1 largemouth. Palmer and May are currently in fifth in the overall standings.

Saturday’s takeoff is scheduled for 6:10 a.m. ET from Osborne Landing. The final weigh-in will be held at the landing at 2:10 p.m. Full coverage will be available on Bassmaster.com.

Visit Richmond and Henrico County, Va., are hosting the event.