College Team Wins Opener with Record Catch

A focused plan with patient presentations yielded monumental results for brothers Lafe and Matt Messer of Kentucky Christian University, who won the Strike King Bassmaster College Series at Harris Chain of Lakes presented by Bass Pro Shops with a two-day total of 61 pounds, 13 ounces.

The Messers caught 25-6 on Day 1 and then electrified the final weigh-in with a massive limit of 36-7. They edged Day 1 leaders Seth Jenkins and T.J. McKenzie of Emmanuel College by a 1-2 margin.

The Kentucky Christian team earned $3,070 and a berth in the Bassmaster College Series National Championship (dates and location TBA).

“We went into today not knowing how doable it was to catch another big bag, but we wanted to make them beat us,” Lafe Messer said. “By about midday, we started thinking this will be a tough bag to beat. On stage, that winning moment — I can’t even describe the emotions.”

The winners split their time between Texas-rigged Magnum Trick Worms and Carolina-rigged creature baits on Day 1. By day’s end, they were sold on the latter and Day 2 saw them catch all of their weight on the C-rig.

“I think the most important thing was just how slow we were fishing it,” Matt Messer said. “I was fishing it as slow as I could stand to. It was probably a minute and a half a cast.”

Making their mark: The Messers’ Day 2 performance broke the Bassmaster College Series single-day record. The previous mark of 32-7 was set by Robert “Bo” Harkins and Michael Braswell of Chico State University on Day 1 of the 2013 Bassmaster College Series Western Conference Regional on California’s Clear Lake.

The Messers also broke the Series’ two-day catch record. Cole Sands and Conner Dimauro of Bryan College set the previous record of 55-12 after the first two rounds of the 2020 Bassmaster College Series Championship on the Harris Chain (three-day event).

“I told (Lafe) all week, ‘If it was God’s plan we were going to win,’” Matt Messer said. “It ended up working out right.”

Location, location, location: Both days, the Messers stayed in Lake Dora and fished shell beds in about 10 feet and focused their efforts on a couple of sweet spots. The two main shellbars they fished presented classic prespawn staging areas outside of spawning canals.

“We fished shell beds that were 500 yards long and there would be a little section about two boats wide that was just loaded with 100- to 150-bass schools,” Matt Messer said. “It was just the hardest spots where it was shell on top of shell on top of shell. New ones were pulling up there every day.”

State of the tournament: Matt Messer described a blistering start to a day that was done by lunchtime. “Out of the first four fish I set the hook on today, three of them were 8-pounders. We had over 30 at about noon.”

Key change: The Messers had a big school fired up on Day 1, but those fish didn’t want to participate a second day. Making a 200-yard move on the second morning yielded huge results.

“Yesterday, we were done fishing by 10 o’clock, but today we started there and didn’t get a bite,” Lafe Messer said. “We switched to our other school and they were biting. I don’t know if the cold messed up one school and the other one stuck around — I don’t really know what happened there.”

Trouble averted: Matt Messer described a hotel parking lot mistake after Day 1, which left their boat unplugged all night. Scrambling to overcome the potential disaster of starting the day with a severe power shortage, they were able to find an option at the last moment.

“This morning, we put in, pulled as close as we could to a power outlet, and charged the boat while we were waiting for takeoff,” Matt Messer said.

Quote of the day: “We thought we had something good coming in, but we never thought it was that good. I think it was God’s plan for us to catch them, and that’s what happened.”

Kentucky Christian mega bag

Second place: Finishing second with 60-11, Jenkins and McKenzie repeated their Day 1 game plan, using Carolina-rigged Zoom Speed Worms over shellbars in Lake Dora. After establishing a big first-round lead with a 31-pound limit, they added another big limit of 29-11.

“The biggest thing I can say is having a partner who’s as driven as you are,” McKenzie said. “He and I kept our heads down, we kept a bait in the water the whole time and we just dragged it really slow. We couldn’t do it without one another. We gave it 100% all week.”

Third place: Bethel University’s Matthew Cummings and Levi Mullins finished third with 47-5. Their daily weights were 26-12 and 20-9.

Mirroring their first-round pattern, Cummings and Mullins targeted grass lines with lipless baits and jerkbaits. Keeping their distance and throwing to the edges of areas where prespawners were staging proved most productive.

“The key was upsizing to a larger lipless bait,” Cummings said. “We had been throwing 1/2-ounce baits, but I upsized to a 3/4 and caught our biggest fish — a 5-pounder.”

Catch of the tournament: Joseph Woods and Anthony Cicero of Bethel University won the big bass award for their 10-14 largemouth. Their fish had been tagged by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.