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Duo qualifies for FLW collegiate championship

Blake Harruff and Tanner Sanderson's top four fish from Fort Gibson Lake.
Blake Harruff and Tanner Sanderson’s top four fish from Fort Gibson Lake.
While he was a biology major at Abilene Christian University, Kelly Jordon (’94) cut his bass fishing teeth on Big Country lakes where water was muddy, winds were high and largemouths grew big. He’s made a living as one of the world’s top professional bass fishermen for the last 20 years, finishing in the top 10 35 times and winning five B.A.S.S. tournaments. Early last month he finished third at the Winyah Bay Elite Series, one pound behind the winner, the best finish in seven years for the 46-year-old who lives in Mineola, Texas, not far from famous Lake Fork.
Tanner Sanderson, a sophomore interdisciplinary major from El Paso and Blake Harruff, a graduate business major from Abilene, could be following in Jordon’s boat shoes.
The pair finished 10th last weekend at a FLW Southern Conference tournament, qualifying to fish in the 2017 national collegiate championship at a date and location to be announced later. The FLW held its 2016 championship at Lake Murray in Columbia, S.C.
Last Saturday they weighed a five-fish limit of 13.10 pounds (winning weight was 18.1 pounds) on Fort Gibson Lake near Tulsa, Okla., a hydroelectric-power reservoir that rose 18 inches the night before, thanks to some typically unpredictable April weather. Sanderson and Harruff arrived Friday to pre-fish and scout the lake but had to seek shelter from thunderstorms several times.
The rough weather, strong winds and rising water of springtime are enough to drive most weekend anglers mad, but the ACU duo kept its cool and found success.
“The night before, three inches of rain fell and caused the whole lake to rise overnight,” Sanderson said. “The fishing was very tough Saturday and we could not find the same numbers of fish we found during practice. We were able to catch our first three keepers in the first 2 1/2 hours throwing a topwater lure, a square-bill crankbait and some soft plastics. After those first couple hours we were unable to get any more bites on our spots. At about noon (weigh-in was at 3 p.m.) we decided to just go fish some new water and try to stumble on a new pattern.”
The pair nearly exhausted its fuel supply exploring the lake’s new water, deciding to return to a cove near the weigh-in site for the rest of the day. That’s where they landed a fourth keeper (6 pounds) and a 14-inch bass to fill out their five-fish limit.
Sanderson said he fishes 15-20 hours a week each semester with Harruff or one of the other 20 students in the four-year-old ACU Fishing Club, which practices on area reservoirs like O.H. Ivie, Leon and Coleman. And he’s found success, ranking sixth in Angler of the Year competition in the local Christian-themed Still Waters Bass Club prior to the FLW tournament.
Five regions of FLW College Fishing competition host three tournaments each and one open tournament each year. National tournament spots are up for grabs in each event. FLW tourneys pit schools in Northern, Central, Southeastern, Southern and Western conferences.
“You can either get a top 20 finish at the open tournament where anglers from all divisions can compete, or you have to get a top 10 finish in one of the three regional tournaments for your conference,” said Sanderson, who teamed with Harruff at a previous FLW regional tourney at Lake Somerville near College Station. The pair found eventual success on Fort Gibson, a lake neither of them had seen before.
The site of the FLW national tournament is kept a secret as long as possible in an attempt to maintain a level playing field for the more than 80 two-person teams who qualify.
“Once the lake is announced there will be a lot of rules and an off-limits period to try to make it a more difficult tournament,” said Sanderson, who expects it to require at least a 10-hour drive from Abilene.
Follow the team’s adventures on its Facebook site.