Dayton, Tenn. – Former Walker Valley High School student, Cole Sands (SO/Cleveland, Tenn.), and Dalton, Ga. native, Connor Cohran (FR) totaled five bass with a weight of 16 pounds, 3 ounces to come away victorious at the FLW College Fishing Southeastern Conference event on home Lake Chickamauga on Saturday. The Bryan College Lions Anglers duo earned the club $2,000 and qualified for the 2017 FLW College Fishing National Championship, which is slated for May 31-June 3 on Lake Wheeler in Rogersville, Ala. As the third year of the program's existence gets underway, the Bryan Lions started of the new school year with a big splash in their first ever major college event win.
"First off, a win at home is a huge blessing," said Sands after the remarkable victory. "We had a lot of pressure on us for this tournament, and it's great to start off the season with a big win."
Pictured: Sands and Cohran weighing in Pictured: Sands and Cohran with winning fish
Pictured: 1st and 2nd place teams
In their inaugural season, Bryan achieved an 18th place finish in the running for Cabela's School of the Year and followed it up with an even more impressive ranking of 6th last season. Sands explained, "This win gets us headed in the right direction for School of the Year."
The win at home was made even more special as the hometown Lions had many fans come out to the Dayton Boat Dock to cheer on the Bryan Anglers. "It was great having family and friends present and supporting us in such a big moment," said Sands.
"We had a lot of time to practice, which was crucial," mentioned Sands on how they found success on the day. "I've been able to fish almost every grass mat from here (Dayton) to Chester Frost. My partner and I had a big practice day, and the game plan was to start at the "big spot" we had come across in practice. I realized that the fish had not really moved up to the grass mats, but instead they are sitting on the grass edge in about 10-12 feet of water. We started getting hits early on, but had lost a few big fish at the start. Soon after we were able to get a 4.5 pounder, which was great. We pushed on and discovered a couple active grass mats where we caught a 5-pound fish and a few others, which I knew qualified us to get in the top-10. Things slowed down as the day went on, but a late 2-pound fish proved vital for us since we won by one ounce."
The 2015 FLW College Fishing National Champion group consisting of Patrick Walters and Gettys Brannon from the University of South Carolina was the team that threatened the Lions for the first place finish on Saturday, coming in with a five-bass limit of 16 pounds, 2 ounces for the 2nd spot. Expecting 110-120 boats, the turnout was enormous with a total of 203 teams vying for a qualifying spot in the National Championship.
The FLW starts the season with the FLW Collegiate Open that offers a chance for teams to qualify for the National Championship. That's where the team of Dylan Kear (JR/Clinton, Tenn.) and Nathan Bell (SR/Riceville, Tenn.) placed 14th and secured a trip to the National Championship, since the top-15 in the Open qualify. The only other opportunities to qualify to go to Lake Wheeler are by earning a top-10 finish in the three regional tournaments hosted in each of the FLW's five regions throughout the year. However, if you have already qualified and manage to qualify in another event, they will drop down and take the next placed team. That's exactly what happened Saturday when the team of Jake Lee (FR) and Jacob Foutz (FR) and Dylan Pritchett (JR/Evensville, Tenn.) and Connor Thompson (SO/Fort Payne, Ala.) qualified because of two teams in the top-10 had previously qualified in another event. Lee and Foutz placed 11th with five fish for a total of 13 pounds, two ounces, and the team of Pritchett and Thompson landed in 13th with 12 pounds, six ounces in five fish. In total, Bryan will have eight Lions, four teams, representing the school in Rogersville.
Pictured: Lee and Foutz showing off their catch
It was an amazing feat as Cohran was on the winning team for the first ever major collegiate win for Bryan, it was his first tournament as a Lion, and it also qualified him for a chance at the crown in the FLW National Championship. "It's a blessing to do what you love," remarked Cohran. "It's great to be a Bryan Lion, and it's an honor to be a part of this team. It's an awesome opportunity to qualify for the National Tournament in my first tournament at Bryan. We had some good practice and had some good spots, so that boosted our confidence going out Saturday. The first hour about every cast we had a fish in the boat. We leaned more towards throwing a jig with the top-water not really working."
Last year, Bryan had several high finishes with numerous being in the top-10. Despite a consistency finishing in the top, the Lions had never come out and won a big tournament. Head Bryan College Fishing Coach, Mike Keen said, "Our guys have a lot of confidence and know they can take on any team. They feel like they belong and can compete with anybody and everybody. You're supposed to win at home, but it doesn't always work out that way. This time of the year probably favored us more than in the springtime. You can't luck up right now, because the lake fishes tough and the knowledge of the lake truly helped us. Hopefully this win brought some notoriety to the college in some areas we may have not reached before. We are extremely thankful for the support we receive from the school, administration, and Bryan College Athletics."
Pictured: Bryan College Fishing Team at FLW event
The top-10 team finishes on Saturday are:
2nd: University of South Carolina – Patrick Walters, Summerville, S.C., and Gettys Brannon, Gaffney, S.C., five bass, 16-2, $1,000
3rd: University of North Alabama – Sloan Pennington, Childersburg, Ala., and Martin McCravy, Killen, Ala., five bass, 15-10, $500
4th: University of Tennessee – Anthony Thorn, Knoxville, Tenn., and Scott Ellis, Madison, Tenn., five bass, 15-5, $500
5th: University of Central Florida – Caleb Bundy, Lake City, Fla., and Jake Carter, Clermont, Fla., four bass, 15-5, $500
6th: Middle Tennessee State University – Austin Wyatt, Gladeville, Tenn., and Mekiah Jack, Mount Juliet, Tenn., five bass, 14-14
7th: Bethel University – Evan Owrey, Jackson, Tenn., and Kristopher Queen, Catawba, N.C., five bass, 14-9
8th: University of North Alabama – Lake Blasingame, Killen, Ala., and Triston Crowder, Lawrenceburg, Tenn., five bass, 14-1
9th: Jacksonville State University – Trevor Brown, Deltona, Fla., and Brandon Padilla, Roswell, Ga., four bass, 13-9
10th: University of Tennessee-Chattanooga – Patrick Hoskins, Chattanooga, Tenn., and Dillon Falardeau, Chattanooga, Tenn., five bass, 13-6
For the full list of results, click here.