ANDERSON, S.C. — Ben Cully and Hayden Gaddis of Carson-Newman University committed to the shallow game and caught a five-bass limit of 18 pounds, 6 ounces to win the Strike King College Bassmaster Classic presented by Bass Pro Shops on Lake Keowee.
Edging Tyler Campbell and Caleb Hudson of Emmanuel College by 4 pounds, 13 ounces, the winners focused on the mid- to upper-lake region. Cully, a junior Business-Marketing major, said he and Gaddis — a junior Business major — stayed true to their early game plan.
“We noticed there were a couple of fish on beds cruising around, so we quickly caught a couple off bed and then caught most of our weight blind casting a wacky-rigged green pumpkin Z-Man ZinkerZ,” Cully said. “The water’s really clear on Lake Keowee, so being able to make longer casts before those fish can see you was key.
“Nine times out of 10, if you got it to them before they saw you, they’d eat it.”
Gaddis said they caught fish throughout the day. They had a 10-pound limit by about 10 a.m. and finished their weight around noon. Cully said they boated their first of two big bass — a 5-pounder — around 11 a.m. and followed with one around 4 pounds an hour later.
“It was just a slow, gradual grind and we finally got what we needed to be able to win,” Gaddis said.
Looking at the week’s forecast, the winners felt confident that a warming trend would spur a spawning movement. Coming into the tournament with that expectation helped them quickly establish their focus.
“We knew there was going to be a really good possibility that these fish were going to be on the bed,” Gaddis said. “In practice, we noticed there were a lot of fish cruising around so we just committed to the whole shallow game.
“We didn’t think we could win with spotted bass, so we ended up targeting largemouth this whole event. There were more bucks (smaller male bass) than females, but the females were coming by the minute.”
Gaddis said their choice of a natural bait color proved strategic in Keowee’s clear water. Also critical were their Power-Poles, which allowed them to maintain the proper distance and angle from each of their target areas.
With cloudy conditions most of the day, visibility was challenging. Even though Cully and Gaddis were mostly blind casting, they did their best to size up promising areas.
“Our Costa sunglasses were a huge player for this event,” Gaddis said. “We just put ourselves in the right areas and worked really hard.
“When we were running down the lake, we would just look for a bigger creek with a flat section in the back where those fish could pull up and spawn.”
Cully concluded: “We were just praying for one big bite and we were blessed with two.”