LITTLE ROCK, AR (Steve Wright) - With 90 minutes left Saturday in the Mercury College B.A.S.S. National Championship, Stephen F. Austin's Andrew Upshaw and Ryan Watkins had a five-bass limit weighing about 13 pounds in the boat. They didn't think that would be enough to win the tournament.
Eighty-minutes later, after deciding to move to the deepest area of 1,200-acre Beaver Fork Lake, they had been able to cull three bass and get their weight up to 15-4. That proved to be the difference in the five-team final as Auburn's Jordan Lee and Shane Powell finished second with 13-10.
"In a national championship like this, everybody out here is good and wants to win," Watkins said. "We fished perfectly for three days in a row. We didn't miss a keeper. But our on-the-water decisions made the difference."
Beaver Fork Lake marked the third body of water fished in this three-day championship event, which started on the Arkansas River, then moved to Lake Maumelle for Day Two.
"We pay attention to the water," Upshaw said. "We let the water tell us what to do. We kind of got dialed-in as the day went on. We finally figured out that the fish weren't on wood structure deep. We found a deep spot near shallow water that had rock and a (mussel) shell bed on it. That's where we caught our last three keepers."
Both Upshaw and Watkins were overcome with emotion after being awarded their championship trophies, the second title for Stephen F. Austin in the seven-year history of the Mercury College B.A.S.S. National Championship.
"It's crazy," said Upshaw, with tears in his eyes. "You never think you can do it. When you finally do, it means so much."
In addition to the team title, Upshaw and Watkins faced each other in a "fish-off," which Watkins won and qualifies him for the BassMasters Classic in February.
He is the first ever collegiate to qualify for the Classic.