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Lake life, Louisiana fishing

The one that got away

Leading any competitive event for three days in a row is tough. Throw in the extra challenge of being the defending champs and being halfway across the country from the home field and it makes for extraordinary odds. The odds were just too much for the University of Louisiana-Monroe team of Brian Eaton and Nick LaDart to overcome in the FLW College Fishing National Championship this weekend.

Throughout the first two days of competition Eaton and LaDart dominated nearly all of the headlines. And rightfully so. As the defending national champions, all eyes were on ULM to see if the team could pull off back-to-back titles and equal the powerhouse run of the University of Florida – who captured national championship titles in 2009 and 2010.

However, while ULM found itself atop the leaderboard on days one and two and seemed poised to sweep the most coveted trophy in all of college fishing two years running, the University of Minnesota had other plans. Flying under the radar for a good portion of the tournament, U of MN teammates Austin Felix and Chris Burgan carefully plotted their strategy.  After the first day of tournament action, the U of MN team found itself in seventh. By the end of day two, the team had crept up the leaderboard into third place overall. Then, when the sun appeared and the conditions finally turned around on the final day of competition, the Golden Gophers pounced, hauling in a whopping 14-pound catch and winning by a margin of more than 3 pounds.

“It’s a dream come true,” said Burgan, whose team walked away with a first-place prize package totaling $30,000, which included a brand new, fully rigged Ranger Z117, a tournament title as well as an automatic berth into the 2014 Forrest Wood Cup – the most lucrative and prestigious bass-fishing championship in the world. “When I stuck those two fish right in a row earlier today I thought, ‘If we could just catch a couple more, then we had a really good chance to put it all together.’ To win is just unbelievable. My mom is probably going crazy right now.”

While we were enjoying warm weather here this weekend, ULM's fishermen Ladart and Eaton were chilling out in South Carolina.

While we were enjoying warm weather here this weekend, ULM’s fishermen Nick LaDart and Brian Eaton were chilling out in South Carolina.

While Eaton and LaDart were certainly disappointed that they didn’t repeat as national champions, their 30-pound, 12-ounce total catch was still good enough to land them in third place overall – which is an incredible feat in and of itself.

“It was really tough for us today,” said Eaton. “We only got four fish in the boat each of the last two days and that really hurt us. We also had to really change things up today and go a lot slower.”

The team, which had been rolling the first two days ultimately ran out of quality fish.

“We were fishing the backs of creeks and creek ends,” said Eaton. “We tried throwing A-rigs and single swim baits early, but we really weren’t having much success. So we wound up switching to a Shaky Head for the rest of the day. Over the last 20 minutes we caught two fish, but we just ran out of a time. I really think that fish we didn’t catch yesterday hurt us the most.”

In the end, ULM settled for third place overall as well as a nice check for $4,000 for their club.

“Hopefully we’ll be back again next year,” said Eaton.

We hope so, too!  Good job to the ULM fishermen and thanks for representing our region so well. You didn’t bring home the big trophy, but you are winners in our book!

Sitting in fourth place heading into the finals, the West Virginia University team of Edward Rude III and Mathew Gibson managed to bring in the second-largest stringer on Saturday to jump up to second place in the tournament.

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