My name is Brock Wilke. I am a junior on the McKendree bass fishing team. This past week we took two boats to the Bassmaster Wildcard Tournament on Lake Murray in Oklahoma. Taylor Schmitt and Jordan Ledbetter were in one boat, and my partner JT Russell and myself were in the other. JT and I were excited about fishing together. We have fished together in the past and have done really well. We were confident in our chances of qualifying for the Bassmaster Championship which will be held on Green River Lake in Kentucky.
We left Monday, June 6 and trekked over 520 miles to our destination, taking us a solid 10 hours of driving. We arrived at our cabins and immediately parked our boats and prepared for our first day of practice on a lake that none of us had seen before. Doing a little research on Murray, we found that it was a pretty clear lake with plenty of smallmouth. We learned that the smallmouth were generally pretty small, within the 2 pound range, and the largemouth had the potential to be big as we heard of 9 pound+ bass being caught consistently. We came to the conclusion that targeting largemouth was definitely the way to win this tournament.
When they said Lake Murray State Park had nice little cabins in the woods, they weren’t kidding.
Locals said the tournament would be won with 15 pounds a day over three days, and 10-12 pounds a day would put you within the cut. We decided to target largemouth first, and we pulled up to a nice looking flooded bank. We noticed how high the water actually was due to the flooding.
I pulled out a frog and began working it around the flooded bushes, reeds, and grass. With not even a swirl on some really good looking cover, I decided to flip a ½ oz. Texas rig. About the 10th pitch in, I caught a solid 2 ½ pound largemouth.
We ran to the far end of the lake into some more colored water, and I proceded to catch three more bass in the 2 ½ to 3 pound range. We had confidence that we could flip up a decent limit in the morning and maybe luck into a kicker as the day went on.
Next, we decided to try our luck out deep. As we idled into a big cove, I turned my side imaging on and saw a nice looking rocky point underwater. It topped off at about 8 or 9 feet on top and 16-18 feet on the sides. I immediately tied on a wobble jig, and on my first cast hooked up on a solid fish that I ended up losing halfway back to the boat. We then caught 6 or 8 more smallmouth in the 2 pound range in no time at all. They bit our drop shots and jigs every other cast. We quickly realized that we could potentially have a gold mine on this ledge and thought we could easily fill our limit at any time, even in the 95 degree heat. We fished the rest of the day with mixed results and our best 5 would’ve went 12-13 pounds we thought, definitely a decent first day of practice.
As we idled back into the marina, we passed the ramp and instead went all the way to the back to see what it would hold. We started to fish a small point. All of a sudden, out of the corner of my eye, I see JT cast and see his rod splash into the water. We were only in 10 feet of water, and my first instinct was to pick up my 6XD and try to catch it. Of course, it was hung on my boat carpet, and it took me 10 seconds to unsnag it. Before we knew it, it was gone. We casted for that rod for an hour before we called for help. Ultimately, we tried snagging it with big treble hooks attached with big weights, big crankbaits and we even tried diving for it with no luck. Luckily, Taylor had an extra rod to use, but that still didn’t take the sting away from throwing $200 into the water.
The boys diving for a lost rod and reel.
The next day we decided to try our luck on the other end of the lake. We targeted shallow largemouth first thing, thinking that the shallow bite would be best in the low light and cooler conditions opposed to the scorching heat. As we made our way to the back, JT got the bite we were looking for. As he twitched his frog around some weeds, an enormous mouth came out of the water and completely missed his frog. As he paused it, the big largemouth swiped at it again. JT estimated the fish to be 6-8 pounds and the biggest blowup he’s ever seen. We left the area hoping to come back the next morning and catch the behemoth. The rest of the day we looked at other areas that related to our pattern. We even cooled off in the lake to try and make the heat slightly more manageable.
That night we went through the meeting and learned we were boat 75 of 80 boats. Because we were one of the last to take off, we had concerns about who would be in our area the first morning.
Beautiful sunrise takeoff on Lake Murray on Day 1.
Takeoff the next morning was long. We got there an hour early to avoid the disaster of trying to fit 80 boats onto 2 small ramps in a parking lot that holds 50 boats at max. We were basically the last boat to take off, and we ran all the way to the other side of the lake where we thought we could catch our kicker. We were the first boat in our cove and had no luck… not only enticing our big fish to bite, but no fish at all.
We ran around to different shallow areas with not even a nibble. We never lost confidence and headed to a deep roadbed we had found when idling. Of course on one of my first casts, I set the hook only to have it broken off on a two pounder. We tried all of our areas only to come up with two very small fish that weighed about a pound a piece. Ultimately we ended up filling our limit.
We were the last team to weigh in, and our five weighed in at a whopping five pounds…easily the smallest five fish limit I have ever seen. These were definitely not the kind of fish we caught in practice, but oh well, that’s why they call it fishing and not catching. First place was 17-10 with second coming in right behind at 17 pounds. We were a long ways out of the top 20 cut which was 12 pounds, and we thought we needed at least 18 pounds to think about fishing on Saturday.
The team enjoys a round of miniature golf after day one.
Brock relaxing after a round of golf.
We were one of the first boats to take off in the morning and thought we could have more of an advantage due to our increased morning fishing time. We learned that most boats caught fish shallow all day which frustrated us because we abandoned the shallow areas too quickly. We decided to stick to the shallow pattern all day and try to get a couple big largemouth to bite. We pulled into the same area we started in on Day 1.
I had a small one nip my buzzbait and a second one, a 3 pounder, took a swirl at it. With this newfound confidence, I began chucking my buzzbait and occasionally pausing it in hopes of catching a follower. Then it happened, a 4 pounder completely came out of the water and destroyed my buzzbait, trailer hook and all. I set the hook, and I cranked it over the weed bed and into the net. Talk about a good start. We kept fishing, and I caught a 2 ½ pounder on a chatterbait.
We moved to a totally new area, and JT caught a keeper on a spinnerbait. Right as he unhooked it, I watched as a huge mouth destroyed my chatterbait. I set the hook and JT netted it right at the boat. It weighed easily 3 pounds. We started the morning great. All we had to do was replace our small ones with 3 pounders, and we had a chance.
We had more chances to fill our limit but it was not in the cards. We had fish get off right at the boat, and we lost a good fish on a frog. We turned in our 4 fish for 10 pounds 5 oz. We had the chance for a better bag, but we could not capitalize on our opportunities.
Brock Wilke and JT Russell with some nice fish on day 2.
We finished the tournament with a dismal place in the 50s, but at least we moved up from our Day 1 finish. Some things we learned were to always keep an open mind, just because it was hot doesn’t mean the shallow fish would not bite. We learned that teams caught shallow fish all day long. Also when the water is noticeably high and in the bushes, to fish the bushes, even in a generally deep and clear lake like Murray.
Team members Jordan Ledbetter and Taylor Schmitt ended up finishing 43rd. They too moved up from their Day 1 finish.
Jordan Ledbetter with a great smalllie.
This Wildcard Tourney was the last tourney to count for the ACA School of the Year race this season. Fortunately, our McKendree team had enough of a lead over those teams behind us, and we remained in 5th place overall for the season!
A favorite pastime with the McK Bass team… some whiffleball on the road. Coach pitches 18 innings strikes out 31.
No “dinger” this time! Strike three…Brock fans on a riser.
My name is Derrik Starrett. I am a senior who graduated in May. I have been on the Mckendree Bass Fishing team since it’s inaugural season in 2013. I was one of the few members who played another sport while being on the Bass Team as well. Since I played football as well as fished, my fall semesters were always very crowded so I didn’t get to participate as much as the other guys. But this last spring I have had much more time and energy to focus on the team, and it has been awesome to see how well we’ve done as a team.
This past week my partner (Austin Niggli) and I participated in the B.A.S.S. Midwestern Regional Tournament at Clinton Lake. I was looking forward to this tournament because it was my last scheduled tournament ever for the McKendree Team. To say I was nervous was an understatement! The tournament field consisted of 93 boats from around the Midwest and a couple of our “rival” schools in the school of the year standings like Murray State.
The Bassmaster Carhartt Series comes to Clinton Lake and Forsyth, Illinios.
The B.A.S.S. tournament is different from other tournaments I have fished because it has the potential to be a three-day tournament. This format makes managing your fish important. With Clinton Lake being relatively small (under 5000 acres) the pressure on everyone’s fish definitely has an impact. I was determined to fish with no holding back because I figured it would be my last college tournament.
To start the week, Austin had a doctor’s appointment on our first day of practice so we weren’t able to fish together until the second practice day. I could tell there was a shallow bite early on because shortly after we took off we had some nice hook-ups. This shallow bite gave me a sigh of relief because although I am confident I can catch deeper fish, I feel a lot more confident fishing shallow. I’m sure a lot of people can relate to the feeling!
Throughout the day I tried fishing both deeper water and shallow water to see what the better option would be. After our first day of practice, I felt confident already that Austin and I could catch a decent amount of fish. But, with the lake being so small, the goal of our second day of practice was to see if we could expand our amount of spots following patterns that we found on day one, as well as to experiment to see if there was something else we could do in case of emergency.
After a hard day of fishing, the anglers enjoy a game of basketball in the pool.
The second day of practice was actually productive. Despite the amount of rain we received, Austin and I managed to add to our arsenal of spots. We managed to find more shallow bites that added to the pattern that we found the day before. We got off the water pretty early on our second day of practice because we had to start worrying about our pressure on our fish.
Coach Rinderer and Austin Chapman doing one of many interviews during the Bassmaster Midwest Regional.
Our takeoff was flighted, and of course Niggli and I were in the last flight. But, it also meant we would be in the first flight on the second day. Right out of the gate, we raced to our first spot that we found on our second day of practice. When we found the spot in practice, it was pouring down rain, and we didn’t see any boats around so we were confident that we would be able to fish our first spot without anyone around to pressure us. When we pulled up on our first spot, the cove had five boats in it… FIVE. This was the first sign that anywhere we went on the lake that week would be packed because we it was such a small body of water.
Luckily, we were able to pull up into our first spot and catch a keeper right off the bat in between all those boats. Our practice showed that we could catch fish in a variety of ways through the week. We caught most of our fish on a shakey head the first few days, and as the week went on we caught more fish on a jig and a creature bait. That was a bit odd because I would expect the finesse tactic to work later after all the pressure, but you can’t argue with what the fish want.
Back to our day. After we caught our keeper, we kept running around the lake hitting a lot of the spots that we found, and we managed to put our limit together rather early. The problem our fish were facing was they were all barely on the line to bump. We decided that instead of pounding our spots and trying to upgrade, we felt confident that we would be in a good position with our limit and decided to go to completely new places. It didn’t end up working out, but we came in with a limit of 13 lbs 4 oz, and we were sitting in 16th place after day one.
Our teammates were also were keeping the pace with 5 boats inside the top 20 after day one, including Austin Chapman and Curtis Lilly leading the way at 4th place at nearly 18 lbs.!
Brock Wilke and Trent Robinson with an awesome day one catch.
Austin Niggli and Derrik Starrett with their day one stringer
Day 2 was a critical day for the field, as the B.A.S.S. officials call it, “moving day”. After Day 2, only the top 20 boats advance to fish for day 3, and only the top 14 on day three advance to fish in the National Championship in July. Being in 16th place was definitely uneasy because we were right on the cut line, but we were confident that we could string together another limit to make day three.
After leaving so late the first day, we were now taking off in the first flight on the second day. With only 14 boats ahead of us we thought again that we could pull up to a less crowded spot than the previous day. Once again, we were wrong! When we pulled up to our first spot of the day, there were not 5, but 9 boats on one stretch…NINE! Talk about crowded, but with the hopes of a National Championship on the line, people knew that this particular spot was a community hole that had produced plenty of fish.
Within fifteen minutes of being there, there were more than 20 boats that had pulled up and started fishing the same area. Austin and I started to get nervous that we may have made the wrong decision by going there to start our morning. The morning bite had been critical for us through practice and in the tournament as well. Fishing such a pressured area in our prime window could prove costly. Fortunately for us, just as we had done before, we caught a critical keeper early in the morning among a crowd of boats.
After we caught that keeper we made the decision to leave the crowded spot because we had too much confidence to catch fish elsewhere. Through our day we could tell the bite had slowed a little, we had to make an adjustment because our shakey head bite had turned off, and now the jig and creature bite had managed to be the key to our keepers. With four keepers in the boat by noon, we were a little on edge and a little relieved at the same time. We were nervous that what we had would put us right at the cut line for the national championship, but relieved that we were able to comfortably be in a position to make the third day.
With still one more keeper spot available in the boat, we really needed to fill out our limit if we wanted to make sure we were going to do be where we wanted to be in the standings. With about an hour left in our day on day two, Austin and I were pulling out of a spot that we had just fished in roughly the center of the lake. I turned to him and pretty much said, “Are we going north or south?” We had decided to go north and hit the community hole again, and right before we got on plane to take off, we decide to run south and hit a spot we had forgot about from earlier in the day. This turned out to be probably the most important decision of our entire tournament because when we pulled up, on the very first cast, we caught the big bite that had eluded us on day one!
The five pound kicker was just what we needed as it gave Austin and I 17 lbs and jumped us up into 6th place after day two! Mckendree as a whole had shown up, as we had 4 boats that made the top 20 cut (actually, we were all in the Top 10) and were getting to fish on day three.
The final day of the tournament was different than it had been all week. The bright sunny skies we had all week were gone, and the clouds and rain had come and changed the game. We felt confident that we could go catch fish in the overcast conditions with the shallow bite we had all week. In the morning it was weird to run to our first spot and not have a crowd of boats to greet us. We had now turned our eyes toward trying to win the whole tournament.
When we got to our first spot, it didn’t take more than ten minutes before we hooked into a big fish. As I was bringing her around the back of the boat, careful not to be too aggressive, she got within reach. And, just as Austin got down to net her, she made one last run away from the boat and snapped the line clean. To say this was a disappointment is an understatement. I think the loss of that fish definitely stayed with us through the day, and we only managed to come away with one keeper.
With the motor dying on us with about an hour and a half to go in the day, we definitely were discouraged headed to the scales. The final weigh-in took place 30 minutes away at a local park, so the entire ride Austin and I had a miserable time coming to grips with the fact we might have blown a huge opportunity at having the chance to fish the National Championship.
Coming into the day, we had a 7 lb lead on the cut line for the National Championship, but headed to the weigh in with only one fish, we were very upset. Once the weigh-in started, we held a collective breath because we knew we would be right on the line. As the weigh in went along and we finally realized that we had earned our birth, we were able to celebrate as a team!
Once I could finally breathe again knowing that we earned our birth, I noticed that our fellow teammates, Austin and Curtis were sitting on the hot seat for a chance to win! They brought in a monster day three bag of over 22 lbs!
Austin and Curtis enjoy the traditional Bassmaster “drive through” weigh-in on Championship Day 3, as teammates Phillip and Shane enjoy their time in the Hot Seat.
Austin Chapman and Curtis Lily with their day three “Big Bag of the Tourney”, weighing in at 22 lbs- 4 oz, and Curtis’s big fish of the day at 6-5. Austin and Curtis also had over 17 lbs on day one. Their three day total earned them 2nd place with 51.9 lbs.
Austin and Curtis ended up finishing 2nd, Shane and Phillip ended up in 5th, and the McKendree team had an awesome tournament as we had 3 boats qualify for the Bassmaster National Championship that will be held in late July on Green River Lake in Campbellsville, KY. Congrats to Shane, Phillip, Austin, and Curtis for their bids to the championship!
Team members Phillip Germagliotti, Shane Campbell, Austin Chapman, Curtis Lily, Derrik Starrett, and Austin Niggli all qualified for the Bassmaster National Championship.
In addition to the college regional qualifier, Bassmaster hosted a national high school tournament on the Sunday following the college tourney. Over 70 boats from around the US competed in the event, which was won by incoming McKendree recruits from Benton, IL.
Coach Rinderer informs the crowd of High School anglers about the two $2,500 scholarships that McKendree will be awarding the winners of their High School Bassmaster Midwest event.
Editors note: Rumor has it that Derrik is eyeing a future position with Bassmasters on the college tour as a bikini spotter, to help keep the guys focused on the water in front of them!
My name is Shane Campbell. I have just finished my sophomore year at McKendree, this being my second year on the team. What an experience it has been with great teammates and an exceptional coach by our side!
The Cabela’s Collegiate Bass Fishing Championship held May 26th-27th is one of the largest tournaments McKendree fishes during the season with a field of 169 teams competing. McKendree was able to take three teams to the tournament, the max number allowed per Cabela’s. With this being a two day tournament, teams would have to bring in a limit of five good bass each day. Since this is a Cabela’s sponsored event, it was worth double points in the School of the Year race. The double points are scored based on the school’s TWO highest placing teams, meaning there was some extra pressure for two of our teams to finish high up on the leader board.
Just one week prior to the tournament McKendree was sitting at the number one spot in the School of the Year race. Due to a 167 boat FLW Southeastern Regional, which McKendree was not allowed to fish because it was out of our region, we dropped to sixth place just days before arriving at the championship. So, we knew we had to do well at this tourney to remain in contention for at least a top five year-end finish.
With this being one of the largest tournaments in the college fishing world, Cabela’s lays out the red carpet for all of the competitors. They kick off the week with Yamaha’s Angler Appreciation Night. This night is a great way to meet some of the other anglers, win great prizes, and engage in some friendly competition.
The casting contest put on during angler appreciation night pits each individual angler against the rest of the 300+ anglers. The preliminary round involves all anglers and the 10 anglers with the best score move on to the championship round. The angler’s goal is to score the fewest points on the course (similar to golf). The course consisted of three corn hole-like targets placed at various distances. Competitors are given two times through the course in the first round, attempting to get inside the top ten cut. My first time through was pretty rough, and well outside of the top ten.
Second time through went much better, landing me in 6th going into the Championship round. Meanwhile, my teammate, Reece Ellerbusch, was tied for tenth after the second round. He had to complete a cast off with 5 other anglers for the tenth spot. (He won this cast off as well as a jackpot of prizes for completing the most difficult hole on the course in the fewest tries with a spinning reel.) Once in the top ten cut, the slates are wiped clean in the final round and each of the top ten has five casts on each of the two targets, with the lowest possible score being two.
With some very respectable scores being put up by the competitors in front of me, I knew I had to perform. I sunk the first one and on my third try at the second target I sunk it again, putting up the best score! For winning the competition I received some great prizes from Cabela’s, Yamaha, and Abu Garcia. Reece placed seventh overall and also won some more great prizes.
Reece Ellerbusch takes 7th in the casting competition.
Shane Campbell in his winning form as he earns the title of “best caster in the country” at the Yamaha Night flipping contest.
Shane talks with Wade Middleton of Careco TV after winning the casting championship.
On to the fishing, with Pickwick typically being won this time of year on deeper structure such as offshore ledges, many on our team committed to trying to figure out that bite in practice. Being from Illinois, many of us have not had a ton of practice with that style of fishing, and there is quite a steep learning curve. Throwing massive baits like the 8” magnum flutter spoon and Strike King 10xd was a new experience for me. While my fishing partner Phillip and I couldn’t get them on those baits, we had figured out how to catch a few on more typical baits for us like shaky heads, jigs, and deep cranks.
Our great support group holding up signs and ringing cow bells at take-off.
Boats being “staged” and ready for takeoff on tournament morning.
Some of our other guys had found a shallower bite that was holding up for them. Each team brought in a limit both days with the duo of Reece Ellerbusch and Austin Chapman finishing 38th and Phillip and I finishing 51st.
Austin Chapman and Reece Ellerbusch with some nice Pickwick bass that earned them 38th place in the 169 boat field.
The team of Brock Wilke and Austin Niggli finished 75th, a respectable finish considering what happened to them on their first practice day. While trailering to another ramp a massive tree limb fell, for no apparent reason, and smashed into their truck, busted the windshield, tore off the tailgate, and destroyed their trolling motor. Miraculously, they emerged unhurt! Brock and Coach, along with the Ranger Boats support staff member James Johnson, repaired the damages to the boat so they could fish the tourney. Brock’s truck also had to go to the collision repair center for some repairs so he would be able to pull his boat home.
Just part of Brock’s problems after a large tree fell on his truck and boat while he was driving to the ramp.
You know things aren’t going well when you see this sign. Thanks so much to the great folks at Simpson’s for getting us back on the road in less than 24 hours.
Coach and Brock taking off the destroyed trolling motor.
What a welcome site. James Johnson and the Ranger support trailer were at the National Championship to help all of the anglers with their problems. James completely installed Bock’s new motor (since his was completely destroyed when the tree fell on his truck and boat) and made many necessary repairs to his busted up boat.
James Johnson from Ranger Boats helping to install a new motor on Brock’s boat.
All in all, it was a very exciting week! As a team, McKendree finished 18th of the 70 universities invited to the event. This marks the Bearcats’ highest finish at the tournament. With this finish, we were able to maintain our 6th Place in the SOY race standings.
Coach trying to block all of the wind while making calls to locate needed boat parts….or was he really just taking a nap?
The Bearcats’ “Top 6” of 2016 at the tent after weigh in.
Next, we’ll be traveling to our Bassmaster Carhartt Midwestern Regional on Clinton Lake. My teammate Derrik Starrett will be reporting on that very shortly. Thanks for following our team blog, and until next time, good fishing!