07.Mar.2014 by Gary Mortenson
SENECA, S.C. – Day two proved to be a lot more difficult than the opening round session for the defending national champions on Lake Keowee. For starters, the University of Louisiana-Monroe team of Brian Easton and Nick LaDart had some significant problems with their trolling motor which forced them to head back to the marina and miss valuable fishing time. Secondly, plenty of their key fishing spots dried up today, which caused them to scramble around for alternatives. Thirdly the team only managed to produce a four-fish stringer weighing 8 pounds, 6 ounces in today’s competition – nearly half of what the duo hauled in on Thursday.
However, by the end of the day, Eaton and LaDart found themselves – somewhat amazingly – still atop the leaderboard heading into Saturday’s all-important final day of competition. With the pressure growing with each passing day as defending national champions, the team finally was able to breathe a sigh of relief after the last team brought their fish to the scales.
“Man, it was tough today,” said LaDart. “We had trolling motor problems, battery problems and we had to come back to the marina to get them fixed. We really wasted a lot of time today. The conditions really changed on us as well. The fishing changed. Everything kind of changed. And when we finally had a chance to run to our spots from yesterday and we didn’t get a bite.”
While the day started off as an almost unmitigated disaster, things turned around as quickly as they had soured earlier in the morning.
“Over the last couple of hours we caught three fish – two in the last few minutes of the day,” said LaDart. “And that saved us. We only had six bites all day. And we only had five bites yesterday. I just hope that it’s not going to cost us that we weren’t able to get that fifth fish in the boat. But we really battled out there today.”
Eaton and LaDart did manage to bring four spotted bass to the scales. But the defending champs know that without some quality largemouth kickers, their chances of defending their title will be close to slim and none.
“We got those spots but not the largemouth that we needed,” said Eaton. “I think the rain hurt us as well. I just wish we had more time to fish today. It was too little, too late.”
LaDart said that although the fishing dried up earlier in the day, their change in luck corresponded almost directly with the appearance of the sun.
“As soon as the sun came out we got our first bite,” said LaDart. “On Keowee, the fishing is really starting to pick up later in the day. And I think because of that, this tournament is going to be won during the very last hour on Saturday. Because when that water warms up, the fish really turn on.”
The team also said it was throwing reaction baits most of the day, covering as much water as possible.
“The bottom contours are really important to us as well,” said LaDart, who didn’t want to divulge too many specifics about their particular bait and tackle choices.
However, despite the myriad setbacks today, ULM still believes it has an excellent chance to walk away with a national championship title and automatic berth in the Forrest Wood Cup – the biggest and most lucrative event in all of professional bass fishing.
“Tomorrow is supposed to be sunny so that should really help us,” said Eaton. “Today was one of the toughest days I’ve ever had fishing for sure, but we’ve made the finals and have a good chance to win. Another good thing is that I think we’ll have our areas mostly to ourselves because the other teams that were fishing around us didn’t qualify. Overall, we’re happy to be in first place. We’re happy to have a chance. And that’s all you can ask for. But honestly, this tournament is anybody’s game right now.”