PEORIA – The lure of friendship and fishing has kept Connor Jacob and Sam Smith in the same boat for a lifetime.
Jacob, a graduate of Notre Dame High School, and Smith, a graduate of Dunlap High School, are sophomore teammates on the Auburn University fishing team.
They have fishing stories to tell, from lake monsters to lily pads and now a big college championship.
The duo won the 2021 Carhartt Bassmaster College Series at Smith Lake in Cullman, Alabama in mid-May. They emerged victorious from the Bass Pro Shops event with a two-day total of 10 basses weighing 33 pounds and 12 ounces.
Their tournament best limit of 18-14 on the final day turned a six-ounce lead into a four-pound victory.
“We’re standing in water lilies, in the dark, right now,” Jacob said with a laugh, as an Auburn team practice wrapped up. “It’s always difficult for us to understand what happened. It was a great experience.”
They qualified for the 2021 Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship, which will take place August 12-14 on the St. Lawrence River in Waddington, NY, with 130 teams of anglers representing college programs across the country.
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Longtime fishing buddies
But it’s a journey that began years ago in Peoria.
“We met in fourth grade at St. Thomas School,” said Jacob, 20. “We started hanging out, went fishing and loved it. In eighth grade we realized we could get into competitive bass fishing.
“I went to Notre Dame and Sam went to Dunlap and we both were on fishing teams. We faced each other in high school.
“But outside of school we continued to fish together as teammates.”
Jacob played football at Notre Dame, but it was fishing that won his heart.
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“Competing in most sports it’s about how big, fast or strong you are,” said Jacob. “In fishing, the playing field is level. You go out there and see how you stack up against the best in the country.”
Competitive fishing takes planning. The choice of a college too.
“We wanted to continue fishing together after high school,” said Smith, who is pursuing studies in biological systems engineering. “So we picked a college that we both liked, and Auburn had a big fishing program (60 participants and 20 boats). So we ended up there together.
“I love fishing. It’s the learning curve challenge, something new every time. It’s often a struggle, but it’s the feeling of competing with nature and developing the skills necessary to understand sport. “
The winning strategy
They found a way to win a championship on Smith Lake.
They started both mornings fishing for spotted bass on the docks, the most abundant species in the lake. As soon as they had a limit, they moved on to a mile-long expanse of pockets containing trash mats, in search of the largemouth bass. Garbage mats are natural floating debris that forms a shield under which large, heavier mouths like to hide from the sun.
It worked, as Smith snagged a 4-pound, 5-ounce big mouth on day one and a 4-pound pair on day two.
“Spotted is the predominant species in this lake,” said Jacob, a marketing and business specialist. “But we knew if we could find the big mouth we could win.
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“It was working, after the first day we brought down 14 pounds and we ended up in the lead. On the second day we had 15 pounds in the boat, and then we knew we had a pretty good chance of winning it.
“We were going to finish high enough to qualify for the national championships, which was our goal. But now we were thinking, ‘Let’s win this. “It was something competitive and we went there.”
Smith said, “We struggled on this lake (at an event last February). So coming back here was definitely a mission for us to do better.”
OK, tech talk for fishermen here: Smith told Bassmaster he used a Baits D Missile (green pumpkin) bomb for his bigger catches on trash rugs, while Jacob used a Baits 4.5 Quiver Worm Missile (at both plum and green pumpkin) with a 1/2 ounce Turning Weight.
On the docks, Jacob caught spotted bass with a Pacemaker swim jig with a variety of trailers (Keitech, Rage Swimmer, Rage Menace), while Smith used a Stanley Wedge spinnerbait.
“We’ve been burned (by the bigmouth strategy) in the past,” Smith said. “We tried to catch them. We knew it was a risk, but this time it worked.”
Watch out for the lake monsters
Now for the not so technical stuff. About those lake monsters?
“We didn’t really tell people that because they would think we were crazy,” Jacob said with a laugh. “But we’re scared of the lake monsters. Terrified of falling from the boat into a lake, and there they are, the lake monsters.
“It started when we were on Lake Kentucky one day. Something made a huge splash and Sam just screamed and everyone on the docks stopped and looked at us. It happens every time we come over. a lake.”
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Standing in the dark in those water lilies, Smith rang “They are real. “
Knowing these partners, they will devise a strategy to catch one.
Dave Eminian is the Sports Columnist for The Journal Star and covers Bradley’s men’s basketball, the Rivermens and the Chiefs. He writes the sports column Cleve In The Eve for pjstar.com. Contact him at 686-3206 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @icetimecleve.