University of Montevallo’s Pennington and Oswalt take close win at Bassmaster College Wild Card at Lay Lake

Capitalizing on an early start, then making key decisions that improved their numbers, Jordan Pennington and Andrew Oswalt of the University of Montevallo tallied a two-day total of 31 pounds, 11 ounces to win the Strike King Bassmaster College Series Wild Card at Lay Lake presented by Bass Pro Shops.

Placing fifth on Day 1 with 14-15, Pennington and Oswalt sealed their victory with a limit of 16-12 Saturday. The winners edged their University of Montevallo teammates Dalton Head and Peyton Harris by 7 ounces.

“This win means a lot to us because we’ve been struggling this season,” Pennington said. “Andrew and I have always dreamed of winning a Bassmaster trophy. To finally do it is amazing.”

Oswalt said that winning by such a close margin over a fellow Montevallo team enhanced the experience.

“It’s awesome we came away with first and second,” he said. “Peyton and Dalton are like brothers to us. I love them to death and it made it all so much sweeter.”

As Oswalt explained, Day 1 found him and his partner at a disadvantage, as their late boat draw — 150 out of a 152-boat field — deprived them of any significant morning bite. Spending their first day on offshore brushpiles, the anglers assembled a competitive limit by throwing 5/16-ounce shaky heads with Reaction Innovations Flirt Worms in magic craw swirl.

“Today, we were boat No. 3,” Oswalt said. “We stayed in Beeswax Creek (where takeoff occurred) and got a small limit on frogs and drop shots.

“After that, we had a bream bed we were saving, so we ran to that spot and, in a span of 15 minutes, we culled out all but one fish from our early limit.”

Pennington and Oswalt caught their two heaviest fish on a Texas-rigged 10 1/2-inch Zoom Ol' Monster worm in scuppernong royal and plum colors. They caught two more of their weight fish on drop shots with 6-inch Roboworms in Aaron’s morning dawn.

“After we fished the bream bed, we ran down to Paint Creek and hit one brushpile and culled a 2.05 with a 2.65,” Oswalt said. “We caught that fish on a shaky head.”

With all of their baits, Pennington said he and Oswalt adapted their presentations to the week’s weather.

“As hot as it was, we had to fish really, really, slow,” Pennington said. “With a lot of our casts, we’d take up to two to three minutes on the retrieve.”

Head and Harris turned in a Day 1 limit of 13-7 and took 13th place. Adding 17-13 — the event’s heaviest bag — nearly pushed them across the finish line with 31-4.

Sticking with the midlake region, Head and Harris fished deep brush in 9 to 12 feet.

“We started shallow each morning, but we didn’t catch anything that helped,” Harris said.

Head and Harris caught their bass on a drop shot with a 6-inch Roboworm in morning dawn and a 1/2-ounce Queen Tackle tungsten flipping jig with a Zoom Chunk trailer. Both baits produced quality and quantity.

“We were just consistently showing them different looks,” Harris said. “One of us always had a jig in our hand and one of us always had a drop shot. We just rotated through brushpiles.

“We were staying a pretty good ways off the brushpiles and dragging the baits. It seemed like they’d bite when you got the bait in the brush.”

Kayden Tanner and Trevor Easter of Tarleton State University finished in third place with 30-3. After placing third on Day 1 with 15-8, they added 14-11.

Following the same game plan they employed in the first round, Tanner and Easter fished from Lay’s south end to the midlake region. They worked a two-part strategy in which they fished shallow docks early and then moved out to brushpiles in 12 to 15 feet.

“Both days, we caught a big fish under docks,” Easter said. “We caught one of them on a 3/8-ounce Berkley flipping jig with a Berkley Power Chunk and we caught the other on a 3/16-ounce Berkley shaky head with a finesse worm.”

Easter said the same shaky head produced their deeper bites. As he recalled, the second day presented a challenging decision.

“This morning, on our third spot, we caught our third biggest fish and we had our limit at 9 o’clock,” Easter said. “We had two little ones that (were looking weak in the livewell), so we had to throw them back before they died.

“So, we were back down to three fish at 11 o’clock, but we were able to run into two more good ones.”

Tanner said their bite died after 11. Reflecting on the gutsy and environmentally responsible call to release two keepers, Tanner said he and his partner never doubted their actions.

“I think the best decision we made was throwing those two fish back because if they had died on us, we would not have been able to cull them,” Tanner said. “We knew we were around good fish, so thankfully it worked out for us.”

Day 1 leaders William Hammond and Cabe Mackey of Catawba Valley Community College won Big Bass honors with a 6-5 largemouth.

The tournament was hosted by Discover Shelby.