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Montevallo’s Willoughby and Pfundt Leverage Current for Bassmaster College Series Win at James River

RICHMOND, Va. — James Willoughby and Jacob Pfundt of the University of Montevallo got the right breaks, literally and figuratively, to win the Strike King Bassmaster College Series at James River presented by Bass Pro Shops with a two-day total of 40 pounds, 9 ounces.

After placing eighth on Day 1 with 17-1, the winners added 23-8 and finished 2 1/4 pounds ahead of Day 1 leaders Jake Monti and Samuel Dunson of UNC Charlotte, who set the high mark with their opening-round limit of 24-5.

For their efforts, Willoughby and Pfundt each won $1,825. The top 19 teams qualified for the Bassmaster College Series National Championship. Dates and location for that event will be announced later.

“It’s been a long time coming; it’s my senior year and his too,” said Willoughby, a past member of the Bassmaster High School All-American Fishing Team presented by Academy Sports + Outdoors. “Pretty late in the day, it became obvious something special was happening.”

Key areas

Willoughby said he and Pfundt spent their day within 10 miles of the take-off site at Osborne Landing. They started their day in The Pits — manmade shoreline indentions created mostly to accommodate barges.

“We were targeting spawning fish with drop shots,” Pfundt said. “We caught some of our fish on Day 1 this way, but we didn’t catch any (in the final round).”

Once they pulled the plug on their early strategy, Willoughby and Pfundt spent the rest of their day focusing on current breaks.

“We practiced in the Chickahominy River (a major James River tributary with vast habitat), but we didn’t want to burn time making that 60 to 70-mile run,” Willoughby said. “The weather had a lot to do with our decision. It was blowing 20 knots with gusts of 30.”

Water movement

Virginia’s longest river, the 340-mile James empties into the Chesapeake Bay, so daily tides influence even the purely freshwater reaches where the tournament was held. The winners used these tidal dynamics to their benefit.

“We knew that some of our upriver stuff would be better when the tide was falling, which kind of set up well for this tournament because it pretty much fell all day,” Willoughby said. “We started on The Pits to let the tide get rolling, because it was pretty much dead high when we started this morning.

“We killed 45 minutes and even though it didn’t pan out, it was worth going to see because you never know.”

Once the water started moving, Willoughby and Pfundt used the falling tide’s influence to their advantage by staking out logical ambush feeding spots.

“We fished pretty much any current break in the river,” Willoughby said. “We fished a lot of the industrial (structures); the big concrete and steel things. We also fished laydowns. It didn’t matter what it was; just something to break current.”

With the afternoon tide switch occurring after their check-in time, the winners fished only the outgoing cycle. Falling water typically bodes well for bass anglers, as these opportunistic predators take advantage of the food-delivery dynamics.

“I personally prefer the outgoing tide because it positions them more predictably on cover,” Willoughby said.

Best baits

Willoughby and Pfundt caught their bass on a mix of Megabass Magdraft swimbaits, Megabass Vision OneTen jerkbaits and a glidebait.

“They probably would have bitten any color, but we used brighter colors due to the water clarity,” Willoughby said.

As Pfundt noted, persistence was essential.

“There’s not a lot of real current breaks, so it was important to make repetitive casts to the same target,” he said. “We had two or three current breaks where we felt comfortable fishing (multiple times).”

Pfundt said he and his partner experienced a fast final-round start that contrasted Day 1.

“Yesterday, it was really tough in the morning, but today we had 15 pounds by 8 o’clock,” he said. “Then we had a slower period where we caught some fish but weren’t able to cull.

“Toward the end of the day, from 12:30 to 1:30, we had a spurt and culled twice. At that point, we both had a meant-to-be kinda feeling.”

Second and third

Finishing second, Monti and Dunson experienced a tougher day and weighed a 14-pound Day 2 limit. Their tournament total was 38-5.

Monti said they started their day downriver about 2 miles above the Chickahominy and caught a limit of 12 pounds, which included 4-pounder. Flipping Texas-rigged 5-inch Bizz Baits Sassy Sticks in junebug with a 1/4-ounce Queen Tackle weight accounted for most of their weight. A chartreuse/black back balsa squarebill produced their kicker.

After securing their limit, Monti and Dunson came back upriver and focused on bedding bass in backwaters. They upgraded with a 3-pounder that ate a Bizz Baits Cutter Craw on a Queen Tackle Hammer Shake (rattling shaky head).

“Downsizing tackle was key,” Monti said. “On Days 1 and 2, we had key fish on wacky-rigged Sassy Sticks on spinning tackle. Whenever the bite would get tough on the Texas rig, we’d switch to the wacky rig.

Sam Hanggi and Sam Hoesley of Auburn University finished third with 36-9. Placing second on Day 1 with 22-4, Hanggi and Hoesley caught a final-round limit of 14-5.

Fishing mostly from the take-off area and a few miles south, Hanggi and Hoesley targeted spawning fish around rock and wood. They caught their bass on Megabass Magdraft swimbaits and Rapala DT 6 crankbaits.

Carson Palmer and Dylan May of Carson-Newman University won Big Bass honors with the 8-1 largemouth they caught on Day 1. Palmer and May placed 18th with 27-14.

Visit Richmond and Henrico County, Va., hosted the event.
2023 Bassmaster College Series Title Sponsor: Strike King
2023 Bassmaster College Series Presenting Sponsor: Bass Pro Shops
2023 Bassmaster College Series Platinum Sponsor: Toyota
2023 Bassmaster College Series Premier Sponsors: Dakota Lithium, Humminbird, Mercury, Minn Kota, Nitro Boats, Power-Pole, Progressive Insurance, Ranger Boats, Rapala, Skeeter Boats, Yamaha
2023 Bassmaster College Series Supporting Sponsors: AFTCO, Daiwa, Garmin, Lew’s, Marathon, Triton Boats, VMC

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