Chris Payne and Chad Sentell didn’t have the finish they were hoping for at the 2021 Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship presented by Bass Pro Shops, but what the University of Tennessee anglers did have was a lot of fun. And at the end of the day, that’s what college fishing is all about.

Payne is a freshman at UT studying Communications and Sentell, a junior, studies Finance. They’ve both been looking forward to getting the chance to fish the famed St. Lawrence River all summer long. You see, Payne and Sentell are painters, and have been working hard at it throughout the summer as the paint-stained Carhartt hat on Payne’s head showed.

The chance to come to New York and chase big, mean smallmouth was the light at the end of their workingman’s tunnel.

“We work for my Dad’s company right now, Sentell Brother’s Painting and have a kind of sponsorship with SERVPRO Damage Restoration,” Sentell explained. “Anytime there is flooding or water damage and they have to rip the old drywall out to replace with new drywall they call us. We come in and paint or whatever else they need done.”

Sentell and Payne are driving a wrapped SERVPRO work truck this week, and by looking at their well-worn Carhartt t-shirts you’d think these two Tennessee Volunteers were up here for a job instead of a bass fishing tournament. But a closer look would reveal sunglasses tan lines and fun-loving smiles that are unique to college fishermen.

Their two-day total of 28-pounds 1-ounce of smallmouth may not have won them any awards this week, but fortunately Sentell and Payne weren’t hanging their heads. They are happy to be here and didn’t take the opportunity for granted.

“We’re not too keyed in on this whole smallmouth deal quite yet but MAN it was still so much fun,” Payne said with a smile. “We caught a bunch of fish and even landed a few great big ones in practice. I mean we just kept catching them. I think we must have caught every single big one off that spot cause we sure didn’t catch them in the tournament… but we couldn’t help ourselves!”

It didn’t take long when talking to these young men for it to become apparent they had a great outlook on life, rooted in hard work and having a good time. To me, that exemplifies some of the best parts of college fishing. Sure, all these anglers are competitors and want to win, but it’s important to not loose sight of the bigger picture.

To qualify for the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship is a big deal, but I would encourage young anglers to find balance between taking the tournament seriously while doing your best to enjoy the entire process. As a former college angler myself I’ll be the first to tell you, these moments pass by far too quickly and it won’t be long until you’re looking back at “the good old days.”

“This whole tournament was an awesome experience,” Sentell said. “A fishing trip to a destination like the St. Lawrence River with good friends and family… you just can’t beat it.”