Western Carolina University students Austin Neary and Alex Frazier captured the 2015 Carhartt College Eastern Regional bass fishing championship recently after three days of competition on Lake Norman near Charlotte.
Representing WCU and the university’s Bass Cats fishing club team, Neary and Frazier brought in a three-day total of 42 pounds and six ounces of fish to win the title while competing against 119 other college teams. They and 15 top teams from the eastern regional will advance to the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship tournament, which will be held this summer in Wisconsin.
Neary, a senior, and Frazier, a junior, will share the $1,500 prize money that they said they plan to use to help develop the bass fishing club at WCU. “We didn’t expect to win,” said Neary. “We were going with a positive attitude but when it happened we were like, ‘Oh my gosh, we won it.’”
Neary said the strategy used by the duo during the March 26-28 tournament was focused on three things – following the wind on the lake that carries plankton that feeds shad, which in turn feeds the bass; the Lake Norman underwater topography that creates a canal where the fish have to pass to return to their spawning area; and the spawning area where a dense population of fish was mating.
Following their win at the eastern region, WCU was ranked fifth nationally for bass fishing and Neary was No. 3 in ranking for individual fishermen, based on two years of tournament results. Neary and another fishing partner from the Bass Cats, Zack Hicks, were ranked 14th among bass fishing teams, based on one year of tournament results.
Other members off the Bass Cats also competed at the Eastern Regional. The team of Caleb Nuckolls and Adam King finished 34th, Tyler Thomasson and Josh Cannon were 38th, and Ethan Pace and Dominick LeSerra came in at 76th.
Neary founded the Bass Cats at WCU in the spring of 2013 and has been club president since then. The club started with four members, but it now includes 30 active members, all full-time students. They represent WCU in a variety of fishing competitions.
“I’m just hoping the club expands,” Neary said. “I would love to get people to donate money to support us.” He said he expects the eastern regional championship will draw attention to WCU’s outdoors programming and that the national coverage will encourage interested individuals to help develop fishing at WCU.
In addition to going to the national championship tournament, Neary also will participate with Hicks in the FLW College Fishing National Championship this month at Lake Murray in South Carolina.