• Starboard Choice Marine
  • Moore Boats
D&R Sports Center

Tournament News Powered By Lake Drive MarineTournament News Powered By Lake Drive Marine

BASS Report

Burrill and Jack SimpsonBurrill and Jack Simpson

BAY CITY, Mich. — There was a moment last weekend, as 6-foot waves tossed their bass boat around Saginaw Bay like a cork in a maelstrom, that Branden Burrill and Jack Simpson stared at one another, silently asking, “What the heck are we doing?”

The answer? They were winning the Strike King Bassmaster College Series at Saginaw Bay presented by Bass Pro Shops.

High winds prevented anglers from venturing into open water on Day 1, but the wind died down just enough on Friday to squelch the small-craft warning for the inner part of Saginaw Bay — a sprawling 1,143-square-mile bass factory in coastal northeast Michigan.

And when tournament officials said the bay was in play on the final day of the derby, nothing was going to keep Burrill and Simpson from chasing bedding smallmouth some 30 miles into the bay in hopes of a tournament title.

The 23-year-old seniors from Western Michigan University did win the final Bassmaster College Series regular-season event of 2024 with a two-day total of 10 bass weighing  35 pounds, 2 ounces. That earned the duo a $4,938 cash prize for their school’s bass program — part of a $16,400 total purse up for grabs among the Top 10 teams competing this week.

It also secured them a spot in the Strike King Bassmaster College National Championship presented by Bass Pro Shops when it’s held Aug. 22-24 on Lake Hartwell in South Carolina. A total of 20 teams competing this week grabbed berths in the championship.

“It was extremely nasty out there,” Burrill said. “It took us two hours to get out (by the Charity Islands) and it was as rough a ride as I’ve ever had on the water.”

B.A.S.S. officials had to make Saginaw Bay off limits on June 5, with the chance of consistently high winds and rough seas too great a threat. That forced each of the 196 competing tandems to fish in the sheltered Saginaw River, away from the worst of the wind. 

Fishing pressure there was, in a word, tough.

“You saw 10 boats anywhere you looked,” Simpson said.

There was a similar crowd atop the Day 1 leaderboard, with 13 different duos within 2 pounds of Burrill and Simpson’s 16-pound bag.

Mother Nature was a bit more cooperative on Friday, but the waves on Saginaw Bay (which opens into Lake Huron) were anything but tame.

And despite the odyssey, the duo only had four smallmouth in the boat when they had to leave around noon. Granted, their weight was in the 17-pound range, but it was a last-minute largemouth, back in the Saginaw River, that provided the extra weight they needed to win.

“We only had five bites today, and all four of the smallmouth were 4-pounders that came off a bed we marked during practice,” Simpson said. “We had well over 40 fish marked on beds in our area, but we couldn’t see them. The water was dirty. Waves were crashing into the boat. It was crazy out there.”

Burrill and Simpson chose their lures wisely in the gale-force winds — opting for a Beast Coast O.W. Sniper Jig in the green pumpkin color and a series of drop shots. The kicker largemouth on Friday came on the same Beast Coast jig.

“I was using a big casting rod because of the wind,” Simpson said. “It was disheartening at times, all that work, and to only get five bites? We’re fortunate. We almost didn’t make it back in time. We ran in really shallow water, through reeds, and just skipped our way back across the bay to the river.

“But this is an amazing feeling, to battle against these conditions and win the tournament.”

Elliot Wielgopolski and Aaron Jagdfeld of Adrian College, weighed a 19-4 limit on Day 2 and finished second overall with 10 bass for 32-9. They won $2,963 for their bass team, and like the winners, they too went for broke and ventured deep into Saginaw Bay on Friday.

“The waves were really big,” Wielgopolski said. “It was a long run. It probably took us about two hours to get out there to the (Charity) Islands, but it paid off. I wouldn’t change a thing.”

All of the Adrian duo’s Friday fish were bedding smallies caught on drop shots.

Brendin Simich and Benjamin Travis of Auburn University, placed third with 31-15 overall ($2,304). The University of Montevallo’s Easton Fothergill and Nick Dumke, last year’s Bassmaster College Series Team of the Year, caught 20-6 on Day 2, which was the biggest bag of the derby. They finished fourth overall at Saginaw with 31-10 and won $1,975 for Montevallo.

They added an additional $200 to their winnings on Friday after catching a 5-2 smallmouth, the heaviest of the tournament.