By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Jacob Foutz graduated from high school in Tennessee and now attends college in the Volunteer State, but he was an Ohio resident for the first 15 years of his life. He spent many days pursuing smallmouths on Lake Erie with his father and grandparents, and that experience aided him en route to winning the Bassmaster College Series Bracket competition this week at Minnesota's Serpent Lake.
"It wasn't new ground for me," he said. "I took some of what I learned at Erie and applied it to Serpent, and it worked out great."
The 19-year-old Foutz, who's about to start his second year at Bryan College in Dayton, Tenn. (hard by Lake Chickamauga), defeated teammate Jake Lee 16-05 to 10-12 in the final round of the bracket event. The victory qualified him for next year's Bassmaster Classic.
The third-generation tournament angler hopes it's the first of many Classic qualifications to come, as his goal for after college is to forge a tour-level career.
"It's all I've wanted to do ever since I can remember," he said as he and Lee were about a third of the way through their 17-hour journey back to Dayton. "Whenever people asked my what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always told them I wanted to fish."
He admits that it might be difficult to concentrate on his schoolwork during the upcoming semester with his impending Classic appearance on the docket for next spring. South Carolina's Lake Hartwell, the venue for that event, is just a 3-hour drive from Dayton.
"It's probably going to be a little tough, but I've got to buckle down and stay in the books," he said. "Fishing's important, but education is just as important and I've got to stay focused on that. I'm taking 14 (units), so maybe it won't be too bad."
Went from Green to Brown
Foutz and Lee caught primarily shallow-dwelling largemouths on their way to winning the team portion of the college championship at Lake Bemidji. The following day (Sunday), the anglers on the top 4 teams were separated into individual competitors for the three-round bracket portion and given 4 hours to practice on the new venue.
"When I walked down to the water and saw how clear it was, I knew I had to throw the shallow-water thing out," Foutz said. "That wasn't going to work for me when I could see the bottom in 10 feet. I started looking for smallmouth."
He used the Navionics web app to do some initial research on the lake, which covers just over 1,000 acres. Once he arrived, he relied on his Humminbird electronics with the Lakemaster chip to pinpoint humps that ranged in depth from 12 to more than 20 feet.
He fished a dropshot rig exclusively.
"I had four or five humps that I got bites off in practice – I fished more than that, but didn't get bites," he said. "Then as the tournament progressed, I went back to some of those and they ended up being some of my best spots."
He had a specific daily target weight in mind.
"I figured if I could get 15 (pounds) every day, I'd have a legitimate shot. I was fortunate to catch right around that each day and make it all the way through."
He defeated Brian Pahl of powerhouse Bethel University (also in Tennessee) in the opening round14-01 to 9-10, then won a much closer tilt over Chad Sweitzer of Chico State (California), 13-06 to 12-00 in the semifinals.
He said that in the finals, he and Lee fished similarly and rotated through many of the same locales.
"It was definitely tough and it was unfortunate that one of us had to lose, but I wanted to win just as bad as he did. If I was going to get beaten by anyone, I wanted it to be him.
"I was just fortunate to get a couple more quality bites than he did."
His biggest bite occurred at about 9:30 a.m. – a 4-pounder that boosted his total to about 13 pounds.
"I knew then that I had a pretty good shot, but I still thought I might need to make a couple of culls and I was able to do that. I caught a 3-pound smallie at 1:30 (a half-hour before quitting time and that got me up to the 16-05."
Looking Forward to March
Being in such close proximity to Hartwell, Foutz will make several pre-practice visits before it goes off-limits shortly after New Year's.
"I've been there several times and I really like the lake," he said. "I fished a BFL regional there in October and we had a college derby there in the spring.
"I did okay in the regional, but in the college (tournament) we struggled – we were a little hard-headed and didn't adjust to the conditions. We tried fishing a lot of road beds where we'd had good bites in practice, but the weather warmed up and those fish went to the bank and we didn't go with them."
Winning Gear Notes
> Dropshot gear: 7' medium-action Dixie Custom Rods spinning rod, 40-size Abu Garcia Revo Premier spinning reel, 15-pound braided line (unknown manufacturer), 8-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon leader, size 1 Gamakatsu Split Shot/Drop Shot hook, 3/8-ounce tungsten weight (teardrop shape), Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits Shad Shape Worm (green-pumpkin or goby).
> The only reason he changed bait colors was he ran out of green-pumpkin. "I had a bunch of the goby laying there, so I started using them. It didn't seem to matter – I was getting the same amount of bites."
> He fished the rig extremely slow. "I was almost dead-sticking it back to the boat and they'd load up on it."
The Bottom Line
> Main factor in his success – "Just running new water and going back to the humps I'd fished in practice and didn't get bites. Each day I'd pull up on another one of those places and catch a key fish or two."
> Performance edge – "My Humminbird with the Lakemaster chip. I could keep myself lined up on the waypoints and make a precise cast."
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