By Casey O'Donnell
Special to BassFan
When Byron Kenney and Will Treadwell left the winner's circle at the FLW College event on Lake Guntersville the day before practice started for the BoatUS Collegiate Bass Fishing Championship at Lake Pickwick, they had no idea their dream week was only beginning.
“Going into the second tournament, no matter what happened, I was so excited winning the first one (that) there was no possible bad outcome.” Kenney said. “Some days you can wrap your line around two dock cables, have your line cinched in half and it doesn't break. The next day every fish you set on could break off. There could be no bad outcome because I could never see myself leaving the (boat) ramp unhappy.”
The University of Georgia Bulldogs rode the same horse that led them to the top of the competition at Guntersville just 5 days earlier to win the prestigious BoatUS Collegiate event. They used Kenney’s ability to find offshore sleeper spots holding winning fish and Treadwell’s knack to make the right cast to cause big fish to react – evidenced by an 8-pound-plus fish that helped seal the deal on day 2.
The field had to contend with the boat pressure of 158 collegiate teams. Rather than spreading their spots long distances apart, the Georgia duo used a milk run of about 15 spots, with the majority of them in sight of each other, to keep an eye on the ledges that were not being sat on by other boats. By mixing up historically good ledge-fishing baits they stayed consistent, weighing 49.68 pounds for 2 days and edging out the runner-up team by almost 4 pounds.
Here is how the dream became a reality.
Kenney and Treadwell used a combination of experience from last year and knowledge of saving fish for multiple-day events to guide them in the right direction during practice. Since they mainly graphed structure during the 3 days of practice, they were a little unsure of what they could catch when the tournament got under way.
“Practice was not that great," Treadwell said. "Granted, we did not fish a whole lot and our confidence was high from the previous week, but of the 25 schools we located, we were not getting bit a whole lot."
Some of the schools they had found held hundreds of fish, but Treadwell was questioning some of Kenney's spots due to the lack of big fish.
“Byron is really good at finding schools,” Treadwell said. “Something about him, he knows how to find the ones no one else has found.
“A lot of teams had found schools, but the key was finding the right cast and how to catch them.”
Day 1: 5, 23.68
Day 2: 5, 26.16
Total = 10, 49.68
Georgia had early limits both days and mixed their techniques to cull up throughout the day to the bags they eventually weighed in. Treadwell mainly deep-cranked with a Strike King 10XD while Kenney used a variety of offerings, including a football-head jig and a flutter spoon.
They moved around quite a bit both days to three general areas of the lake roughly 40 miles from McFarland Park in Florence, Ala. Three of the spots they stopped at were areas they had all to themselves. The other 10 places they exploited were "community holes."
By halfway through the first day they made a decision based on the weight they had in the livewell to stop culling fish from their primary areas and leave their spots fresh for day 2.
“A key for us was that we stopped fishing by 10:30 on our good spots,” Treadwell said. “It's hard to leave the school alone when you have the fish fired up and you're catching big ones.
“We honestly didn’t think we had 24 pounds – we thought it was 22 or 23. It was enough to keep us in the Top 10 or Top 5, but we didn't want to ruin the second day.”
On day 2, they had the entire day to exploit their areas and pull as much weight off of their spots as possible. Surprisingly, a lot of the areas that had been packed full with boats a day before had been vacated when they arrived the second morning. As for the fish, they had moved around as well.
“On the spots we would go back to where we graphed the fish in practice, the (fish) would be completely gone. We would fish for 10 minutes, and nothing.” Kenney said. “They would move around on the ledge and you would have to re-find them by paying attention to the electronics and casting to where the school is and not where they were.
“We both were fishing with a lot of confidence when we had them located. There were so many fish down there we thought we could pull up on any of those spots and catch 25 pounds."
When they caught the big fish of the tournament early on the last day they knew that was the one to pave the way to the second National Championship for the Bulldogs in 5 years.
“I had said all week that if we had that 7- or 8-pound bite it would be the deciding factor,” Kenney said. “The week earlier at Lake Guntersville we had one close to 10 pounds that came off at the boat – it was basically in the net and it jumped back out. That moment was going through my head when that fish was coming in.”
“I pulled it in close, he reached out with the net and netted it in,” Treadwell said. “The whole week catching big fish we stayed quiet, sat down in the boat with our fish, trying not to draw attention by all the boats around us watching us. This fish we went crazy; screaming, hollering, we just couldn't help it because we knew right there it just became real.”
> River ledges on the Tennessee River chain tend to be a dominant factor in tournaments from late spring to early fall. Going into the tournament, Kenney and Treadwell knew that offshore fishing near the main-river ledge was how the event would be won. "You have to know how the current positions the fish on the main-river ledge,” said Kenney. “Current is the key.”
>He said not exhausting their areas on day 1 allowed them a better opportunity to fish their schools effectively. "I figured the tournament would be won the second day. We were in it and I thought we could catch a big bag the second day.”
Winning Gear Notes
> Jig gear: 7’6” heavy-action Fenwick AETOS rod, 20-pound unnamed fluorocarbon line, unnamed 3/4-ounce football-head jig, Wackem Crazy Baits Tater Bug trailer (green-pumpkin special).
> Cranking gear: 7’10” medium-heavy ALX Grind deep-cranking rod, 12-pound unnamed fluorocarbon, Strike King 10XD (sexy shad or chartreuse sexy shad).
> Spoon gear: 7’6” heavy-action Fenwick AETOS rod, 20-pound unnamed fluorocarbon, Strike King Sexy Spoon (gizzard shad).
The Bottom Line
> Main factor in their success – “Staying confident and calm. Calm nerves and go have fun, control the controllable factors and what is meant to be will happen,” Kenney said.
> Performance edge – “Without a doubt it was our two Lowrance HDS 12 Touch units. They found the general areas, located the fish and helped us stay on the schools,” Treadwell said.
> The Saturday prior to the week of the BoatUS Collegiate National Championship, Kenney and Treadwell won the FLW College Fishing Southeastern Conference Qualifier on Lake Guntersville with 26-05. In the duo’s last 3 days of tournament fishing they have amassed 76-12 worth of Tennessee River bass. The Bassmaster College Series heads to Pickwick for the Wildcard the last week of June, where Kenney and Treadwell will be heavy favorites.
> For full results of the BoatUS event, click here.