Survival of the fittest

TYLER, Texas — On a day when only one limit was caught from the field of 34 teams in the 2009 College Bass West Super Regional on Lake Palestine, it was two critical keepers in the final 30 minutes that pushed Day One leaders Joe Landry and Zach Caudle from LSU Shreveport to victory.

"I'm burning up, tired and hungry — we haven't eaten at all today," Caudle said. "When we only caught three keepers today we thought it was over with. I really thought we needed to catch two more fish and have around 15 pounds to win, but this is just a great feeling — we have been having so much fun this week."

Their two-day total of 30.33 pounds was almost five pounds heavier than the second-place team of Austin Hollowell and Brandon Dickenson. The anglers from North Texas landed the only limit of the day, pushing their total to 25.98 pounds. Northwestern State's Zack Hester and Adam McDonald fell one spot to finish in third place with 21.89 pounds.

Rounding out the top five were teams from Louisiana Tech: Preston Smith and Jarod Brantley with 20.85 pounds in fourth and Aaron Rogillio and Brandon Holmes with 20.36 pounds finished fifth.

For Landry and Caudle, it was their first tournament with College Bass and their first tournament victory as a team, but it didn't come easily. They caught their first keeper early in the morning, but then didn't boat another between 8:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.

"As soon as we pulled up we got a few bites and we thought it would be a great day, but then it just turned off," Landry said. "At 1:00 p.m., with about 30 minutes left before we had to start to make our way back in, we pulled up around another boat fishing a club tournament. They were catching a bunch of bitty fish, so we went out to go around them and threw a few casts out into deeper water and caught our two best fish on back to back casts."

After a less than stellar practice in which they learned not to fish the lower end or docks, Landry and Caudle looked at a map and decided to start way in the back of Flat Creek.

"We talked to a lot of guys that were fishing places like Kickapoo and they wouldn't be saying much, but occasionally they let slip little details like how deep they were getting bit," Landry said. "Based on that, we chose that area in Flat Creek which is all about 4 feet deep and that is where we spent the whole tournament except the time it actually took to get back there. It was probably a 45-minute idle through the stumps once you got to the area."

They relied on a Zoom Ultravibe Speed Worm to catch their bigger fish and a Yamamoto Swimming Senko to fill out their limit. Both lures were green pumpkin and fished with a 1/16-ounce weight.

Landry and Caudle also relied on a topwater, alternating between a Heddon Spit'n Image and a LaserLure popper in a spicy shad color. With those lures in hand, the anglers just kept going around and around in the same area at the back of Flat Creek.

"I was really hurting for a Power-Pole the whole time this week," Caudle said. "I really think we would have caught more fish if we had one. The key, especially on Day One after the rain passed through, was being really quiet."

He actually owns a Power-Pole, but his boat was out of commission for the event. So he called Brad Reeves, owner of Reeves Marine in Bossier City, La., and borrowed a Skeeter 20i for both practice and the tournament.

Caudle also had to leave after the Day One weigh-in and head back to Shreveport for a charity ball, finally getting back to Tyler around midnight. Neither lack of sleep or tough conditions could keep the two anglers from claiming the first-place trophy. Weighing in last, their nearly 10-pound bag put the nail in the coffin and they easily walked away with the first-place prize.

While LSU Shreveport avoided docks, Hollowell and Dickenson from North Texas picked them apart to score second place as the only team to record a limit on both days of the tournament.

"Even with a limit, we came to the dock thinking we might be in 10th place," Hollowell said. "This turned out to be a great finish considering we had never seen the lake before this tournament. We spent our time mainly fishing between docks — if you found a little patch of reeds that was at least 3 feet by 3 feet: that was the key."

The two anglers spent the competition with two rods on the deck of their boat. They alternated between a green pumpkin tube and a 5/16-ounce green pumpkin finesse jig, both fished on a 7-foot heavy action Falcon Cara rod. Hollowell and Dickenson did manage one on a spinnerbait in the morning of Day One, but otherwise all their fish came on those two baits.

Like the team from LSU Shreveport, North Texas had some boat issues that nearly kept them from competing. Fortunately, they got in touch with H&W Marine and got fixed up in time for practice.

"We bought the part and one of the guys there stepped out and spent 10 to 20 minutes of his time fixing it," Dickenson said. "Then the bilge went out in practice and I knew I needed to get that fixed because the rain was about to come down and we would have been in big trouble without it. We did have a Solo cup in back so in case of an emergency we could have went with the old dump and pour."

Considering their troubles and this being their first visit to Lake Palestine, finishing in second turned out to be a great way to end the event.

"Literally we had never seen the lake before," Dickenson said. "I had never been to Palestine because Cedar Creek, Athens and Purtis are all 30 miles closer and those lakes are awesome. I think we're going to start now."

Hollowell quickly qualified that statement saying, "Unless it's windy — this lake gets going like Lake Erie."

The 34 teams competing in the West Super Regional brought 435.01 pounds of bass to the scales at Academy Sports + Outdoors and 99 percent of the fish were released alive back into the waters of Lake Palestine. The next College Bass tournament is the 2009 Under Armour College Bass National Championship to be held July 9-12 in Little Rock, Ark.

2009 College Bass West Super Regional Final Standings