Fishing, friendship and lake monsters: Peoria-area high school grads in same boat at Auburn – Peoria Journal Star

fishing,-friendship-and-lake-monsters:-peoria-area-high-school-grads-in-same-boat-at-auburn-–-peoria-journal-star

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PEORIA — The lure of friendship and fishing has kept Connor Jacob and Sam Smith in the same boat for a lifetime.Jacob, a graduate of Notre Dame High School, and Smith, a graduate of Dunlap High School, are sophomore teammates on the Auburn University fishing team.They have fishing tales to tell, from lake monsters to lily pads and now a major college event championship.The pair won the 2021 Carhartt Bassmaster College Series at Smith Lake in Cullman, Ala., in mid-May. They emerged victorious in the Bass Pro Shops event with a two-day total of 10 bass weighing 33 pounds, 12 ounces.Their tournament-best limit of 18-14 on the final day turned a six-ounce lead into a four-pound-plus victory."We're standing in some lily pads, in the dark, right now," said Jacob, laughing, as an Auburn team practice finished up. "It's still hard for us to get our heads wrapped around what happened. It was an awesome experience."They qualified for the 2021 Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship, to be staged Aug. 12-14 on the St. Lawrence River in Waddington, N.Y., with 130 teams of anglers representing collegiate programs around the country.Reeling in a winner: See how Peoria-area anglers finished at the IHSA bass fishing state finalsLongtime fishing buddiesBut this is a journey that began years ago in Peoria."We met in the fourth grade at St. Thomas school," said Jacob, 20. "We started hanging out, went fishing and loved it. In eighth grade we realized we could get into competitive bass fishing. "I went to Notre Dame and Sam went to Dunlap and we both got on fishing teams. We competed against each other in high school. "But outside of school, we kept fishing together as teammates."Jacob played football at Notre Dame, but it was fishing that won his heart.Back to the field: Busy high school sports schedule provides 'sense of normalcy' in Peoria"In competition in most sports, it's about how big you are, or fast, or strong," Jacob said. "In fishing, it's a level playing field. You go out there and see how you stack up against the best in the nation."Competitive fishing takes planning. So does choosing a college."We wanted to continue fishing together after high school," said Smith, who is pursuing a degree in bio systems engineering. "So we picked a college we both liked, and Auburn had a big fishing program (60 participants and 20 boats). So that's how we ended up there together."I love fishing. It's the challenge of the learning curve, something new every time. Often it's a struggle, but it's a sense of competing with nature and building the skill to figure out the sport."The winning strategyThey figured out a way to win a championship on Lake Smith.They began both mornings fishing the docks for spotted bass, the most abundant species in the lake. As soon as they had a limit, they shifted to a mile-long stretch of pockets that held trash mats, hunting for largemouth bass. Trash mats are natural floating debris that form a shield under which heavier largemouth like to hide from the sun. It worked, as Smith hooked a 4-pound, 5-ounce largemouth on the first day and a pair of 4-pounders on the second day. "Spotted is the predominant species in this lake," said Jacob, a marketing and business major. "But we knew going in that if we could find largemouth we could win.Personal stories: Peoria runner has 92 track championships, nine records. Now his son is at Richwoods"It was working, after the first day we brought in 14 pounds and found ourselves leading. On the second day, we had 15 pounds in the boat, and we knew then that we had a pretty good shot at winning it."We were going to finish high enough to qualify for the nationals, which was our goal. But now we thought, 'Let's win this.' It was a competitive thing and we went for it."Said Smith: "We struggled on this lake (in an event last February). So coming back here was definitely a mission for us to do better."OK, technical talk for anglers here: Smith told Bassmaster he used a Missile Baits D Bomb (green pumpkin) for his biggest catches on the trash mats, while Jacob used a Missile Baits 4.5 Quiver Worm (in both plum and green pumpkin) with a 1/2-ounce flipping weight. On the docks, Jacob caught spotted bass with a Pacemaker swim jig with a variety of trailers (Keitech, Rage Swimmer, Rage Menace), while Smith used a Stanley Wedge spinnerbait."We've been burned (by the largemouth strategy) in the past," Smith said. "We've been trying to catch those. We knew it was a risk, but this time it worked."Watch for lake monstersNow the not-so-technical stuff. About those lake monsters?"We haven't really told people this, because they would think we're crazy," Jacob said, laughing. "But we're afraid of lake monsters. Terrified of falling out of the boat into a lake, and there they are, lake monsters."It started when we were on Kentucky Lake one day. Something made a huge splash and Sam just screamed and everyone over on the docks stopped and looked at us. It happens every time we get on a lake."Summer ball: How one longtime area coach brought summer college baseball back to PeoriaStanding in the dark in those lily pads, Smith chimed in "They are real."Knowing these partners, they'll come up with a strategy to catch one.Dave Eminian is the Journal Star sports columnist, and covers Bradley men's basketball, the Rivermen and Chiefs. He writes the Cleve In The Eve sports column for pjstar.com. Reach him at 686-3206 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @icetimecleve.
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