Hunter DeSplinter and Conner Choate decided to play to their strengths at the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship.

Hunter DeSplinter and Conner Choate decided to play to their strengths at the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship.

The fishing duo from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville tried everything to figure out the waters during practice at Tenkiller Lake, in Tahlequah, Okla.

However, after struggling during the three-day practice sessions on the lake, they had a decision to make.

“It was miserable,” said DeSplinter, a 2016 Geneseo graduate. “We couldn’t get on anything, and we caught one keeper in three days. We decided to go up the river and live or die by it”

After trying to fish the docks and trying some deep water fishing, their strategy of fishing the river paid off.

“I think it was what we had the most confidence in doing,” DeSplinter said. “We had confidence we could put fish in the boat doing it, so we stuck with it and grinded it out.”

The Pioneers’ Choate and DeSplinter finished 14th with five fish totaling 15 pounds three ounces and earning the best finish in school history on July 21.

After a seeing how tough it was to find keepers in practice, the duo adjusted their goals to just keep themselves in striking distance.

DeSplinter felt the intensity in the air with 136 boats crowded into Tenkiller Lake to compete for the title.

Yet, DeSplinter said the team didn’t feel any added pressure surrounding the event.

On the first day, Choate hooked a fish immediately but had it wriggle away, and DeSplinter had a fish get away after his line snapped.

“It was disappointing,” DeSplinter said. “We knew every bite was going to count.”

DeSplinter thought it seemed like a bad omen, but the duo knew it meant they had found a good spot.

With keepers needing to measure up to the 16” requirement, the two keepers DeSplinter and Choate pulled out of the water landed them in 26th place.

DeSplinter said most teams were struggling, and they caught several fish that were just an inch too small to keep.

“Going into the tournament you always want to win,” DeSplinter said. “After the way practice went, we were thinking just three good fish a day would keep us in it.”

On the second day, Choate caught a keeper immediately and added another after DeSplinter had one get away.

A majority of the fish they caught came early in the day before the 100-degree weather began beating down on the lake.

Yet, Choate and DeSplinter kept trying to add to their bag late into the day.

With about 30 minutes left, DeSplinter threw his cast out to a bridge pillion in and pulled a four-pound fish out of the shallow water.

“We were pretty stoked about that,” DeSplinter said. “With the heat and everything, it was getting to us. We kept grinding it out and that fish probably moved us up a good 20 spots.”

They fell just a pound and six ounces short of reaching the tournament’s final cut of 12 boats.

However, competing at the National Championship made DeSplinter want to push for even bigger things next year.

He wants to make it back to the National Championship and even try to compete for the Team of the Year title by earning points at big tournaments throughout the season.

The duo will be back in the boat this weekend competing at a Fishing League Worldwide event on the Mississippi River, in Wabasha, Minn., starting on Saturday, July 28.