Dayton, Tenn. – The temperature dropped drastically and the snow turned Kentucky Lake into a whiteout over the weekend, but that didn't hinder the Bryan College Lions Fishing Team who weathered the wintry mix and battled their way to 7th and 15th place finishes at the Cabela's Collegiate Big Bass Bash presented by Berkley on Saturday, Mar. 11, to surge ahead of the competition and dethrone Auburn University (Ala.) and claim the No. 1 spot in the country. The format of the 2017 Big Bass Bash had already been changed from a two-day event to a one-day event due the chance of inclement weather. The previous standings for Cabela's School of the Year had University of Alabama, University of North Alabama, and University of South Carolina also ahead of Bryan, but the 513 points awarded to Nathan Bell (SR/Riceville, Tenn.) for his 6.81lber and 505 points given to Dylan Pritchett (JR/Evensville, Tenn.) after his 6.39lb catch helped the young Lions program make a rippling splash in collegiate fishing to lead the race for School of the Year. In just their third year in existence, Bryan has fished their way through a tough body of water with no divisions or conferences, meaning that all schools in the nation are facing off for the Cabela's School of the Year title. The 634 points compiled before the Big Bass Bash grew by more than a grand with the Lions now at 1,652 for the year.
The Big Bass Bash is a highly anticipated event for the schools vying for School of the Year, because of the large field of anglers that enter the event, which in turn allows for a large amount of points to be earned. The prize gets even sweeter with Cabela's taking the top two finishes of each team, and each angler is considered a team. "You have to do well at the Big Bass Bash for a chance at becoming School of the Year," explained Bell.
Even though fellow rival Bethel University (Tenn.) took the top honors with an 8.49lber and placed 6th with a 6.85lber, they closed the gap by only 15 points. Consistency has been key for the Lions with top finishes in every tournament this season, and that will play a major role in Bryan guarding the number one ranking.
Because of his experience, Bell didn't let the mental game start playing tricks on him. "The day before I didn't think the conditions were going to affect the fishing," said Bell. "I have fished enough to know that when weather drastically changes that the fish will still bite. It's normally the day after that you can start to notice the difference."
He wasn't nervous about the fish biting, but he did think that the approach would need to be different to get a big bite. Bell remarked, "I told my partner, Cole Sands (SO/Calhoun, Tenn.), that we would need to slow the pace down. Some of the guys wouldn't be able to reach their spots, but all we needed was to catch two fish over 6lbs to lead in School of the Year."
The tournament was broke into eight sessions, and the top-10 in each would win prizes. Bryan's Dylan Kear (JR/Clinton, Tenn.) was the only one on the team to land a large enough fish to place through the first two sessions. Pritchett helped Bryan feel more comfortable when he placed 3rd in session three presented by Cabela's with one of the 6lbers that Bell said the Lions would need. It wasn't until session six that Connor Cohran (FR/Dalton, Ga.) and Jonathan Peck broke the silence with fish that neared the 5lb mark for 6th and 7th finishes during that particular weigh-in.
The Lions entered the final session, session eight presented by Engel Coolers & Costa Sunglasses, in need of one more 6lber, and it was Bell who delivered for Bryan. "When I caught the fish with just an hour left, I knew we killed it," said Bell. "We had been fishing shallow all day, but Sands had the idea to go over to a deep spot. On my first cast of the last session, I felt it reach bottom and took it about two feet before the huge hit."
When asked about how he felt helping the Lions to take over as the No. 1 team in the nation, Bell explained, "We are all excited about the honor to become the leader in the running for School of the Year. It's entirely a team effort, and the cool thing is it takes all of us to outlast these large colleges and universities since there are no divisions. The strong finish in the Big Bass Bash sets us up really good for the top-10 in School of the Year, because all of the other schools close to us in the race have already participated in their regional tournament. We haven't fished our BASS regional, which will provide us with even more points."
Head Bryan Fishing Coach, Mike Keen said, "I am extremely proud of these guys. They have worked very hard to reach this milestone. This is the reward of a total team effort. Now we move our focus to placing high in each tournament in order to protect our No. 1 spot."
Up next for the Lions, they travel to Lake Hartwell in Hartwell, S.C. this weekend for the FLW Southeastern Regional on Saturday, Mar. 18, and follow it up with the Cabela's College Open on Lake Dardanelle in Russellville, Ark. next Saturday, Mar. 25.
For the complete session results at the Big Bass Bash, please click here.
The standings have not been changed to reflect the jump for Bryan yet, but they can be viewed by clicking here.
For the Bryan Fishing Team's complete schedule, click here.