Andrew Upshaw (left) and Ryan Watkins (right) won the College Bass National Championship in Arkansas
College fishing has just finished crowning its first winner that will be representing the collegiate trail at the next level. Not only is it the next level, it is what many call the “Super Bowl of bass fishing” which, of course, is the Bassmaster Classic. Qualifying for the classic is a monumental feat and it is what many of the professionals set as their goal throughout the season. The collegiate angler that will be representing the entire college fishing trails at the classic is Andrew Upshaw from Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches, Texas. Many reading this may feel that Andrew could not possibly be prepared for such a spotlight, but he is not new to this and I fully expect to see him do well.
While this is an important accomplishment for Andrew, his road to the classic has still very much been a team effort when he paired up with teammate Ryan Watkins to win a three-day tournament.
The road to the classic alone was well deserved. It essentially was a four-day tournament that took place on four separate bodies of water throughout the state of Arkansas with the final two days of the tournament being mystery lakes. The first day of the event took place on the Arkansas River at Little Rock pool where anglers had the option to lock up or down one time. Andrew said they “found them in the last hour of practice.” While many of the teams were probably taking showers and preparing for the banquet, Upshaw and Watkins found a school of fish that put them in the driver’s seat in this style tournament. On the actual tournament day, they locked up to Pool Seven and caught the majority of their fish offshore near the middle of the river. Rivers are known as shallow fisheries where many anglers focus on backwaters. “We found them wadded up. We focused on 15-25 foot of water and our boat was positioned 200 yards from the bank.” At one point of the day, Andrew and Ryan clearly had found a school and catching “12 keepers in a 14-minute span.” When they pulled up to a sandbar and had a limit of keepers in only five casts, Upshaw told me about their eventful day on the river saying they “actually hooked about a 12-inch spot and a four pounder swallowed the spotted bass but regurgitated it before we could land them both!” Ryan Watkins felt relieved after having a good first day on the river because as he said it, “We were lacking confidence at the river as well as experience e, so having a successful day one was crucial.
The second day took place on Lake Maumelle, a small lake with good visibility. Upshaw said they “camped out all day” catching “60 fish before 9:00 a.m.” Upshaw and Watkins furiously continued to change baits and colors to keep the school fired up most of the day. They ended up repetitively culling their way up to a solid limit weighing over nine pounds. Watkins expressed how “Maumelle was a grind on many teams, but we caught them. It boosted our confidence and I think it faltered others.” He went on to tell me “everything just went right, I knew if we got through Maumelle and made the top five, we could win.”
The top five teams of the first three days of competition advanced onto the mystery lake; in this case, the mystery lake was Beaver Fork Reservoir. The evening before each team was allowed one hour of practice in order to come up with a game plan. “The Hunchback wake bait made the difference” Upshaw explained when asked how they caught them. “It is made by Strike Pro and it is just a great search tool for early morning fishing.” It was easy for the team to relax after they “started off the morning with a quick limit weighing over twelve pounds.” The entire lake was surrounded with grass and so they had decided to “focus on small points and isolated clumps with irregularities.” Their game plan clearly worked as they yielded a solid initial limit and ultimately culled various times on a ten-inch worm on an off-shore shell bed. With only ten minutes remaining in the tournament, they felt they were one solid bite from winning the event. Watkins looked over to Upshaw who was beat down, dripping with sweat, tired and hungry and said “we don’t have enough but with one three-pound fish, we can win today.” Andrew acknowledged, agreed and without wasting any time reared back on a fish over three pounds that allowed them to cull into the fifteen-pound range.
I asked Andrew during our interview what it felt like to team up with somebody and win a grueling three-day National Championship event, only to “fish” against him for the Classic berth on Day Four. He said “it was slightly frustrating we won the tournament and then I have to turn around and fight him. However, we knew this going in.” We jokingly agreed that it was better than rock, paper, scissors or the flip of a coin, but we understand it leaves one member of the team devastated. That final day where Andrew and Ryan fished against each other took place on a small 35-acre lake that they call “Classic Lake.” Ryan explained to me how he tackled the last day: “I tried not to think about the classic berth on the line. I continued to think out loud to myself and talked continuously to my cameraman.” Ryan explained that while it just didn’t happen for him, “Andrew is my best friend and I was rooting for him too. Even though I won’t be fishing the classic, I am a National Champion, and that is pretty special to me.”
The 2012 Bassmaster Classic will take place in Shreveport, Louisiana on the Red River. I half-jokingly asked Andrew if he was going to move from Lufkin to Shreveport and he answered me with a laugh “no, I am going to continue to fish other events around the house and not focus entirely on the Classic, but I promise I will be out there a lot. I just don’t want to get too many ideas in my head but I do want to be prepared for all kinds of conditions.”
So if you are a college fisherman, a college student or just a fan of college fishing be sure to check out the 2012 Bassmaster Classic that will take place in February. Andrew Upshaw is the first angler from the College ranks to represent college fishing as a whole in the event. I highly recommend anybody that can attend to do so; it is a great experience and a great chance to support the anglers. I am excited to see how Andrew handles the classic, both on and off the water but I am sure he will make us all proud.
About the Author: Brandon Dickenson is a graduate of the University of North Texas and was the founder and past president of their bass club. He continues to fish when and where he can while writing about the current college bass fishing scene. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.