Wallace State anglers Josh Butts and Justin Rivers made club history over the weekend by claiming the Carhartt Bassmasters College World Series Wild Card championship on Lake Barkley in Dover, Tenn.
Butts and Rivers make up the first duo to finish atop the leaderboard for Wallace State's BASS fishing club, which is less than three years into its existence.
"I've fished in a lot of tournaments, but this is the top of the top. It means a lot to win the Wild Card for Wallace State because fishing is such a strong passion of mine," said Butts, 22, a welding student at Wallace State and a St. Clair County High graduate. "We won a tournament that featured a lot of awesome anglers. It's an accomplishment we should definitely hold our heads up high about. I'm cherishing every moment."
"I don't know if what we achieved has really sunk in yet. It's awesome. It shows the fish don't know what kind of boat you are in or if you are from one of the largest universities in the nation or a community college," said Rivers, 27, a Wallace State industrial electronics student and Addison High graduate. "It's a big deal to us and a big deal for the college."
Butts and Rivers pulled off the come-from-behind victory on Lake Barkley. They were in third place entering the final day of the competition, trailing a pair of teams from McKendree University (Ill.). The Wallace State duo decided to spend the entire final morning on the Kentucky-side of the lake, fishing near a ledge which had previously been successful for them. Butts and Rivers reeled in the five-bass limit, weighing 15 pounds, from that one spot.
"We knew we were going to make the long run to that spot on the final day," Butts said. "It was going to be all or nothing."
Butts and Rivers finished the three-day event with a 42 pounds, 5 ounces total. They used ¼ and 3/8-ounce lead-head jigs in shallow shell beds. Jig trailers included Biffle Bug and Paca Craw brand soft plastic lures.
The Wallace State Wild Card championship didn't come without some challenges. A bearing went out on Butts' trailer before the competition started, and a troll motor on the boat malfunctioned on the final day of the tournament.
"It was a roller-coaster ride at times. All the little things that could go wrong seemed to go wrong. We also used some bait to plug up a leaky hole. Those things make you feel like you shouldn't have won, but the stars were aligned for us," Rivers said.
The Wallace State duo fished in a 1989 Bumble Bee model boat owned by Butts. The boat, featuring a 1991-92 Johnson motor, was by far the oldest one on the water.
"It's a great boat for me. It does what it needs to do. There's a bunch of things wrong with it, but nothing major wrong with it," Butts said. "It floats and it runs. It helped us win first place."
Wallace State finished first among a plethora of Division I colleges, including Alabama, LSU, Arkansas, Kentucky, Nebraska, South Alabama, East Carolina and UNA, among others.
"It's a great milestone for these guys to be the first ones to finish first in a tournament for us. It was very impressive for them to go out and win in a boat that wasn't the fastest or the newest," said Wallace State BASS club faculty sponsor Joe Hendrix, an instructor in Wallace State's Industrial Electronics Department.
Butts and Rivers have now qualified for the 2015 Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship scheduled for July 9-11 at Lake DuBay in Wisconsin. The top 13 teams in the Wild Card event advanced to Wisconsin.
In 2013, Ethan Flack and Logan Shaddix made Wallace State's debut at the Bassmaster National Championship in the college's inaugural BASS club season.