Northern Michigan University’s Justin Brown and Brandon Bissell finished first of 82 teams at the Carhartt Midwestern Regional and will be moving on to Bassmaster College Series National Championship.

“It’s almost impossible for me to put how I am currently feeling into words,” Bissell said. “I have been bass fishing since I was about five years old, and since then I had been dreaming of one day winning a major tournament. This weekend it finally happened.”

The Wildcats were no lower than third in the standings throughout the tournament, bringing in the maximum 15 fish over the three-day tournament. NMU had 14 pounds, 13 ounces in day 1 but dipped to 13 pounds, 14 ounces on day 2.

Brandon Bissel (right) wrestles with a bass as Justin Brown readies the net. (Photo from Bassmaster.com/Shaye Brown

Brandon Bissell (right) wrestles with a bass as Justin Brown readies the net. (Photo from Bassmaster.com/Shaye Brown)

Brown and Bissell then exploded on day 3 with 15 pounds, eight ounces. That was the biggest one-day total of any team in the tournament. It brought their tournament total to 44 pounds, three ounces, enough to win with three pounds to spare.

“Opportunity’s like this don’t come up very often so when they do you have to make the most of everything,” Brown said. “It feels great to have won something this major.”

With the regional held on a state border, Minnesota and Wisconsin laws had a direct impact on the strategy of the teams. Culling — a practice where captured fish can be replaced in a boat’s live well with a bigger fish — is illegal in Minnesota but allowed in Wisconsin.

Bissell said the duo fished primarily in Minnesota, so numerous keepers were released to catch higher-scoring fish in NMU’s “go big or go back in” philosophy.

“Once you catch five keeper fish and put them in the live well, your day is done in Minnesota,” Brown said. “We wanted to win the tournament so we made the decision to turn lose the small keepers and wait for the big ones to show up.”

NMU attacked the shallower areas using primarily hollow-bodied frogs and buzzbait. With that approach, Bissell and Brown was able to avoid the dangers of the muddy Mississippi and find a better environment for their target.

“Our strategy was to find clean water that wasn’t muddied up by the river currents,” Brown said. “The small sloughs off the river channels with a mixture of duck weed, grass and clearer water with no current were key. Many times there would also be bluegills bedding in our areas which provided a food source for the bass.”

The bass fishing team is a club sport at Northern Michigan, meaning expenses, organization and equipment are all decided by the players. However, Brown and Bissell felt nothing but support during the tournament.

“These past couple days have been overwhelming in terms of how large our support network has grown,” Bissell said. “We never knew we had so many people rooting for us back home. Our phones were practically blowing up with encouraging messages from our supporters every day after the live weigh-ins.”

Cade Laufenberg and Wyatt Stout of Winona State (Minn.) finished second and Austin Brimeyer and Anthony Riesberg from Dubuque (Iowa) rounded out the podium. Grand Valley was the next Michigan school finishing in 12. Lake Superior State was the only other Upper Peninsula school in the field, finishing 31 and 64 with their two teams.

Nationals will be held at Lake DuBay, which is part of the Wisconsin River water system near Stevens Point, Wisc. on July 9-11. Live scoring for that tournament is available at Bassmaster.com. For more information, visit the team’s Facebook page HERE or email Brown at justbrow@nmu.edu.

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