By Greg McCain
Five years ago, Cole Burdeshaw and Peyton McCord had limited experience in a bass boat. In just a few days, the two Auburn University and Alabama B.A.S.S. Nation anglers will be competing for a berth in the 2019 Bassmaster Classic.
Burdeshaw and McCord recently combined to finish among the top four teams in the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship presented by Bass Pro Shop. Those four teams earned the right to fish in the ultimate college tournament, the College Series Classic Bracket.
By finishing fourth in the tournament on Oklahoma’s Lake Tenkiller in mid-July, Burdeshaw and McCord also continued a tradition of Auburn anglers earning the right to contend for the lone college berth in the Bassmaster Classic.
With only two fish in their bag on the final day, they sweated out
the last few minutes of the weigh-in.
Officially titled the 2018 Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Classic Bracket presented by Bass Pro Shop, the Aug. 14-16 tournament on Milford Lake near Junction City, Kansas, will bring together two-man teams from Auburn, Bethel College, Campbellsville University and the University of West Virginia. All of the anglers, however, will fish as individuals in this bracket-style, elimination-format event with one advancing to the Classic next year on the Tennessee River in Knoxville.
Burdeshaw and McCord will be in opposite brackets in the tournament, which means they could only face each other on the final day.
“We started the high school team together at Headland (in southeast Alabama),” Burdeshaw said. “We were two of the original four members. The team had two boats. He had one and I had one.
“It’s hard to believe that we are now fishing to go to the Bassmaster Classic.”
Although they still fished team events together at times, Burdeshaw and McCord went their separate ways after leaving Headland. Burdeshaw quickly became the top angler at Auburn. McCord, meanwhile, spent time fishing on the Faulkner University team and also attended junior college, joining Burdeshaw and Auburn last fall.
At Auburn, team members compete in a series of fall qualifiers to determine angler of the year position. In qualifying last fall, Burdeshaw again finished on top with McCord just behind, meaning they would fish as a team in college events this past spring.
In February, they finished second in the Alabama B.A.S.S. Nation (ABN) State College Championship on their home waters, Lake Eufaula, and earned one of the two spots available via the tournament for the Lake Tenkiller championship event.
“It turned out to be huge,” McCord said. “We didn’t really realize just how big it was at the time, but it gave us a chance to advance to the Classic Bracket.”
In Oklahoma, Burdeshaw and McCord battled brutal conditions – triple-digit air temperatures and water temp well into the 90s – to finish among the top four teams. They managed to boat 10 16-inch keepers over three days of fishing, most coming on Buckeye Lures Spot Remover stand-up jig heads paired with Big Bite Baits six-inch worms.
With only two fish in their bag on the final day, they sweated out the last few minutes of the weigh-in.
“We stood in the weigh-in line and tried to figure out if we were in or not,” McCord said. “I knew we had four or five pounds. We were just blessed to have what we had the last day because the fishing was so tough.”
When the team in front of Burdeshaw and McCord failed to produce any fish, they knew a Bracket berth was theirs.
“We were back there at the tanks doing the math in our heads,” McCord said. “We knew we only needed two or three pounds to make the Bracket. When the next guys who weighed in didn’t have anything, we knew we were in.”
At Milford, they will carry on an Auburn fishing tradition that continues to grow. According to advisor/coach Darrell High, who is also the ABN Youth Director, Auburn first established a team in 2007.
The Classic legacy on the Plains started in 2012, when brothers Matt and Jordan Lee, both former ABN anglers and B.A.S.S. Elite Series competitors today, met in the final day of the Classic Bracket. Matt Lee won that tournament and fished in the 2013 Classic on Grand Lake in Oklahoma.
Jordan Lee went on to even bigger and better things, returning to the Classic Bracket finale the next year and beating Auburn teammate Shane Powell for the college spot in the 2014 Classic on Lake Guntersville. That tournament launched an Elite Series career for Jordan Lee that has seen him win the last two Bassmaster Classics in dramatic fashion.
“To be able to follow in their footsteps is great,” Burdeshaw said. “To win the Bracket and to fish in the Classic would be incredible, but both my goal and Peyton’s is to fish for a living, and this is just another stepping stone toward achieving that goal.
“I hope that we can continue the tradition.”
Burdeshaw and McCord will be in opposite brackets in the tournament,
which means they could only face each other on the final day.
Jordan Lee said the opportunities for competitors at the tournament are endless.
“Those were definitely some fun times fishing at Auburn,” Lee said while traveling home to Alabama after the Elite Series event on the Upper Chesapeake Bay in July was postponed. “I know it was a great opportunity for me and for my brother.
“When we started out fishing the college circuit, it was pretty new. The reason I started fishing it was the opportunity just to get the chance to fish the Classic and the exposure you could gain from fishing it. I know the anglers (at Auburn) now see the same thing. It’s a great opportunity for them. Just like that, one of them could be fishing the Classic.”
McCord said he wasn’t even aware of the Lees or anything involving college fishing when he first competed as a high school student in Headland. Now he hopes a similar path awaits either of the Auburn teammates in Kansas.
“People have been asking, ‘what’s it going to be like fishing against Cole?’ ” McCord said. “First of all, we’re not assured of fishing against each other. However it turns out, I’m going to be extremely happy.”
Greg McCain is a freelance writer with current credits in Alabama Outdoor News, Great Days Outdoors, Alabama Game & Fish, and CrappieNOW online magazine in addition to producing content and photos for this website. He is a member of the Belgreen Bass Club, an ABN chapter near Russellville.