EUFAULA, Ala. — William Nichols and Jake Young grew up together in the small town of Alexandria, Ala., but they shined on the national stage Wednesday during Day 1 of the Bassmaster Team Championship.
Nichols and Young caught a five-bass limit of 17 pounds, 10 ounces to take the lead in the final tournament of the 2021 Bassmaster season. A total of 179 two-person teams representing 62 team trails from around the U.S. and Canada are participating in the championship here on the Alabama/Georgia border.
Nichols and Young represented the Coosa River Team Trail well on Wednesday, with Nichols hooking a pair of 4-8 largemouth bass to anchor the day’s heaviest bag.
“The first (4-8 bass) came in a flurry in the morning when the front was moving in,” said Nichols, 23. “We had a limit by about 7:30 a.m. but everything just stopped. Then at about 11 o’clock, we got that second 4-8, probably about 2 miles from where we caught the first one. We didn’t have many bites today, but we caught all of them.”
Young, 21, said he was pleased his teammate had the hot hand.
“I had to be the net man on both of the big catches and I was fine with that,” he said, laughing. “Hopefully we can duplicate tomorrow what we did today.”
Young said he and Nichols caught their limit on a variety of lures.
“We used pretty much everything but the kitchen sink,” Young said.
Nichols and Young were the ninth boat to take off Wednesday and steady rain wasn’t far behind — though skies did clear by midday. They’ll be 171st of 179 teams to begin fishing Thursday, and they said they aren’t sure if the later draw will prevent them from taking advantage of an early bite.
“It’s supposed to be a bit cooler than it was today,” Nichols said. “It may affect our (strategy) a little bit tomorrow. But if you can get six or seven bites here, you should have a good bag. That’s what we’ll try to do.”
David Lowery and James Murphy grew up in the nearby Columbus, Ga./Phenix City, Ala., area, so they have experience on Lake Eufaula. They used their knowledge of the fishery to catch a 15-15 limit of largemouth bass, good enough for second place.
Lowery, who now resides in Milledgeville, Ga., said he and Murphy flipped jigs along Eufaula’s shorelines to start the tournament and likely will do the same on Day 2. They’re representing Berry’s Tournament Trail in the championship.
“I team-tournament fished with my dad down here all my life,” Murphy said. “It helped me in practice. They’ve been spraying the lake to kill the hydrilla the past few years, so it’s a bit different now. I used the same bait, but it was harder for me to catch them.”
Kentucky’s Charles and Ethan Caudill of the National Team Bass Association (NTBA) are in third place with a limit of 15-12. They’re joined in the Top 5 by Arkansas’ Josh and Donald Wray of the Ozark Mountain Trail, who are in fourth place with 15-11, and Kentucky’s Nick Ratliff and Bradley Dunagan of NTBA in fifth place with 14-15.
Ratliff and Dunagan caught the heaviest bass — a 6-pounder that gave them the early lead for the $500 prize awarded for biggest fish of the tournament. The former Campbellsville University anglers have shared success before, finishing second in the 2018 Bassmaster College Series National Championship on Lake Tenkiller in Oklahoma. Ratliff came back a few weeks later to win that year’s Bassmaster College Classic Bracket on Milford Lake in Kansas and finished 41st in the 2019 Bassmaster Classic on the Tennessee River in Knoxville.
The leading duo after Day 2 of this week’s Team Championship will claim a $20,600 cash prize provided by Ranger/Mercury, part of a $91,600 total purse that will be divvied among the Top 35 teams.
The Top 3 teams (six anglers) also will advance to the Bassmaster Classic Fish-Off portion of the championship. They’ll have their team weights zeroed and they’ll fish individually on Friday and Saturday with the leader clinching the final spot in the 2022 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk. The Classic will be held March 4-6 on South Carolina’s Lake Hartwell.
Day 2 of the Bassmaster Team Championship will begin at 6:15 a.m. CT from Lakepoint State Park Marina. Weigh-in is scheduled for 2:15 p.m. at Lakepoint.
The Eufaula-Barbour County Chamber of Commerce is hosting the Bassmaster Team Championship and Bassmaster Classic Fish-Off.