(Editor’s note: Leading up to the 2013 FLW College Fishing National Championship – slated for April 19-21 on Beaver Lake in Rodgers, Ark. – CollegeFishing.com will publish weekly, in-depth features stories of each of the 25 national championship team qualifiers. At stake in the tournament is a first-place prize package that includes $30,000 in cash, a brand new, Ranger Z-117 bass boat and an automatic berth in the 2013 Forrest Wood Cup.)
CollegeFishing.com: How were you introduced to fishing?
Richard Lee: My father used to take me fishing all the time when I was younger, but I recently just took up the sport again about a year and a half ago. That’s when I really got into fishing exclusively for bass.
Christopher Benninger: I was introduced to fishing through my dad when I was younger. I started off trout fishing in little streams and that lead into walleye fishing as well as the occasional bass-fishing trip. It was not until my first year at Plattsburgh State where I became hooked on bass fishing. As one of the original founding members of the club, I became a very passionate about the sport and rather knowledgeable. If it was not for one of my good friends Mitch Davis, who was the founding president of our club, I do not think I would be where I am today.
CollegeFishing.com: What style/method of fishing are you most comfortable with?
Richard Lee: I like to power fish, covering as much water as possible using a crankbait or a jerkbait, but I am really beginning to like structure fishing and drop-shotting. In my mind though, there is nothing better than the early spring or the fall when the smallmouth really crush a jerkbait.
Christopher Benninger: I am a die-hard drop-shot fisherman. I would fish deep for smallmouth any and every day if I could. But over the years, I have taken the time to work on other techniques like power fishing with spinnerbaits, crankbaits and jigs – where I have become very comfortable using them when needed.
CollegeFishing.com: What did it feel like to qualify for the 2013 FLW College Fishing National Championship? How do you plan to prepare for the big event?
Richard Lee: It felt amazing to qualify for the biggest tournament of my life. I’ve just about watched every FLW show to date and to be able to be on a stage of this magnitude feels amazing. Through watching how the pros perform out on the water, it makes me go out with an open mind – and just do research and look at previous tournaments to prepare myself for the national championship. And just like David Dudley always says, the biggest thing is to just have an open mind and don’t ever count anything out.
Christopher Benninger: It was a dream come true. I had been trying to qualify for the regionals for the last four years and during my last year I finally made it. That was the most exciting thing I have ever experienced. However, once we made it down to Philpot Lake and pre-fished the first day, we couldn’t catch a fish for the life of us. So on tournament day we decided to just go fishing – and hopefully try to figure something out. Boy did it pay off. We found a pattern that no one else was fishing. We pounded the shoreline throwing a weighted wacky hooked Senko and skipped it into the trees. I couldn’t tell you how many hooks we lost, but it was well worth it. We were able to catch enough fish to put us into third place after day one.
We continued to do the same thing the second day, where we squeaked off another five-fish limit. That proved to be enough to keep us in third place and qualify for the National Championship. On day three we decided to change it up and fish deep. It was a much slower day, and we caught a few fish here and there but we had trouble initially getting our five-fish limit. So we decided to go back to our original pattern. Finally, we’re able to pick up a couple more fish to get our limit. We then decided to move out to deeper water to try to upgrade with a bigger fish or two and it ended up paying off. We culled out a 12-inch largemouth and replaced it with a 16-inch largemouth, which was enough to keep us in the running. The experience was like no other. My teammate Rickey and I are so excited to go down and represent our school, our state and our region in the biggest college fishing event ever.
As for preparing for the National Championship, I have been and plan to continue to do all of the research I can about the lake and its fishery. I will not have the opportunity to pre-fish before the event because I will be student teaching in New York City and will not be able to take time off. However, I plan on contacting local tackle shops and fishing guides and will be asking as many questions as I can to help give myself an idea of where and how we will be fishing.
CollegeFishing.com: Tell us something interesting about yourself that most people wouldn’t know.
Richard Lee: I fished on my first bass boat just this past spring. This summer was the first time I have ever fished in a tournament. I also work for the Lake Champlain Research Institute.
Christopher Benninger: I am a passionate steelhead fisherman. And when bass fishing season is “over,” you can find me out in a stream fly fishing. I will be out there in the rain, snow and even when most of the stream is covered in ice.