Bemidji, Minn. – When the 2016-17 season got underway, the Bryan College Lions Fishing Team set their sights on the Cabela's School of the Year title, presented by Abu Garcia, which is widely regarded as the hardest and most sought after collegiate fishing title in the nation by measuring true consistency throughout the year. After silencing University of North Alabama and University of Tennessee in the running on Pickwick Lake at the BoatUS Collegiate Bass Fishing Championship in the end of May to seal the deal in Florence, Ala. and earn the School of the Year title, the young and talented team turned their attention to bringing home a national championship as well. With four teams qualified to fish for the crown at the 2017 Carhartt Bassmaster College National Championship, presented by Bass Pro Shops, the Lions made their way cross-country to Lake Bemidji in Bemidji, Minn. for the event running Aug. 10-12.
Just as Bryan College Fishing Head Coach, Mike Keen, has said all year long, the team does not look for one group on the team to do the heavy lifting. "We don't depend on any single individual, but each tournament there is a boat that steps up to the plate and delivers," said Coach Keen. For the Lions this week, it was the unstoppable force of freshmen Jake Lee (SO/Knoxville, Tenn.) and Jacob Foutz (SO/Charleston, Tenn.) who jumped ahead early and never looked back. Even though Bryan was the only top-five team to come up short day one on their five-fish limit, Lee and Foutz found big keepers and bettered the field for the No. 1 spot with four fish weighing 16 pounds 6 ounces. As day two unfolded, the top boat for the Lions continued to impress by producing the largest bag of the tournament, 18 pounds 4 ounces, creating almost a five-pound difference from 2nd-place team, Bethel University (Tenn.). Not to mention, Lee and Foutz corralled their five keepers on day two with over three hours left to fish before weigh-in. By 10:30am on Friday, the duo had pulled out of the water in order to save the rest of the fish in "their spot" for the final day of competition, feeling confident in their haul. After day two, the Lions totaled 34 pounds 10 ounces, holding a 4-13 lead over their nearest pursuer.
"It has seemed if nothing could go wrong all week long," said Lee. And many would agree with how the Lions achieved notable marks each day, ending with 15 pounds 5 ounces at the final weigh-in. It was the top-12 teams from the second day that had the opportunity to hit the water today and battle for a national championship. Bryan's comfortable lead going into the final day applied pressure to the teams in the hunt, forcing them to yield a lot of weight. At today's weigh-in, Cole Floyd and Carter McNeil from Bethel was the next to last team to take the stage, leaving only Lee and Foutz. The boys from Bethel ousted the others and took 1st-place with 15 pounds 7 ounces, amassing 45 pounds 4 ounces through three days. The top-spot didn't last long as the Lions rallied for 49 pounds 15 ounces for their three-day total, roaring their way to first and the victory at the Bassmaster College National Championship.
In just their third year in existence, the Bryan Lions Fishing Program has recorded School of the Year and National Championship titles, proving they are a collegiate fishing powerhouse.
The game plan of Lee and Foutz was to fish Lake Irving, a body of water just south of Bemidji Lake, and the play paid off. The key to all of the fish the Lions were able to catch came from juggling a frog lure early on and progressing to the shore. "We had a frog bite going on and we caught a couple key fish every morning," Foutz said. "As soon as the sun came up that bite faded and we would start flipping docks and shoreline cover."
Lee and Foutz didn't cull a single fish the entire week of competition. The fish that went in their livewell stayed until 2pm every day when they were weighed on the B.A.S.S. stage. Today was the only day the Lions struggled with losing a few important bites after hooking and landing all of the first nine fish they used to weigh in through the first two days.
Bryan is a force to reckon with in the years ahead, having captured the national championship title under the work of two freshmen. Lee was one of the first-ever High School All-American anglers, and Foutz also competed at the high school level. The Lions are overflowing with talent, and reaching new heights continues to build confidence and a name for the Bryan program.
"This week was amazing, it showed us that we can come here and compete with the best college anglers in the country," Foutz and Lee said. "The goal is to always win a national championship, but now our sights are focused on the bracket. Hopefully, we can carry this momentum there."
The top-four teams that include Lee and Foutz, Bethel's Floyd and McNeil, Chico State University's (Calif.) 3rd-place Tyler Firebaugh and Chad Sweitzer (40 pounds 8 ounces), and Bethel's other team that snuck in at 4th that is made up of Brian Pahl and John Garrett (39 pounds 7 ounces), will now split into eight individual anglers and fish-off in the 2017 College Classic Bracket where the head-to-head event is slated for Monday, Aug. 14 on the 1,057 acres of beautiful fresh water, Serpent Lake, located in Crow Wing County, Minn. The setup is boaters take on boaters and co-anglers go against co-anglers, and both Lee and Foutz have been paired with rivals from Bethel.
The individuals are now vying for a chance at becoming the Classic victor, which involves a spot in the 2018 GEICO Bassmaster Class presented by DICK'S Sporting Goods, entry into all nine Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens next year, and a brand new four-door truck and boat wrapped in the school's colors and the school's name to use for the 2018-19 season.
To keep up with the College Classic, visit bassmaster.com.