COLUMBIA, S.C. — You know who usually wins these confrontations: cop vs. college kid. That's exactly what you have in the co-angler finals Saturday in the Bassmaster Elite Series Carolina Clash presented by Evan Williams.
The college kid — 25-year-old Travis McDermott — has the upper hand after two days. He almost repeated his 13-pound, 11-ounce, five-bass limit from Thursday with 13-13 Friday. It kept him in the lead on the co-angler side for the second straight day.
"I feel extremely, extremely blessed," said McDermott, who is taking a break from chiropractic studies at Life University in Atlanta, Ga., to fish his first Bassmaster Elite Series tournament. "I can't say it's all me because these guys are the best in the world."
Speaking of "the world," Elite Series pro Matt Sphar referred to his co-angler — Freeman — as "the best finesse fisherman in the world" while on the weigh-in stage Friday.
The 35-year-old deputy sheriff from Max Meadows, Va., has some credentials to back that up: He won the BASS Federation Nation Mid-Atlantic Division championship on Florida's Lake Toho last November and qualified for the Bassmaster Classic by doing so.
Then, on South Carolina's Lake Hartwell last February, Freeman backed that up with a 28th-place finish at the Classic.
Freeman trails McDermott by 1 pound, 13 ounces after having a big day in the back of Sphar's boat Friday. His 15-7 five-bass limit is the best in the co-angler field after two days and gave him 25-11 overall.
"(Sphar) got me close to them," Freeman said. "I'm a finesse fisherman. I think most of these guys are throwing bigger baits real fast. I think I can throw a smaller bait and fish it real slow, because they are so accustomed to the bigger baits ripping over their heads.
"They catch the real aggressive ones. But a co-angler has to make the fish bite, and I think finesse fishing is the only way to do that."
Sphar enjoys finesse fishing, too. They've become good friends since Freeman won the co-angler title in the 2007 Elite Series Blue Ridge Brawl at Smith Mountain Lake. He fished the final day from the back of Sphar's boat.
"We're good buddies," Sphar said. "We practice-fish together. We were out there throwing the exact same baits today. It wasn't the bait difference or anything like that. It's how you work the bait.
"People wouldn't think it makes a difference, but it does. The difference between a fish coming up and looking at it and eating it are two different things."
McDermott is finesse fishing as well, relying on a drop shot for most of his bass the last two days. The Williamstown, W.V., native drew Elton Luce on Friday after being paired with Jeff Reynolds Thursday.
"I'm fishing behind these guys and just trying to take my time and stay out of their way," McDermott said. "I'm working slow, making sure I'm always in contact with my bait — with my eyes, with my hands, with my mind — everything."
McDermott has fished BASS Federation tournaments since he was 16 years old, but this first Elite Series co-angler entry has put him in lofty territory. McDermott said he would like to fish the BASS Open tournaments and try to qualify for the Elite Series, but not until he gets out of college and establishes his chiropractic practice.
Although Freeman has almost a 5-pound lead over third place, this isn't necessarily a two-man race for the co-angler title. Clay Lowder of Mayesville, S.C., is in third place with 20-13, and Lane Wright of Loganville, Ga., is fourth with 20-2.
The co-angler champion will be decided Saturday after one more day of competition on Lake Murray, during which the top 50 Elite Series pros and co-anglers are paired.
Visit Bassmaster.com for full coverage of the Elite Series Carolina Clash, May 15–18, 2008. Thursday through Saturday, daily weigh-ins with live streaming video and real-time leaderboards start at 3:00 p.m. ET. On Sunday, "Hooked Up" will air at noon and 2:45 p.m. ET, with the final weigh-in and live streaming video to start at 3:15 p.m. ET.