The Mississippi River is home to some of the best bass fishing in the country. It's also home to two up-and-coming anglers.
Cade Laufenberg and Wyatt Stout are both Winona State University students set to compete at the Bassmaster 2015 Carhartt College National Championship in Stevens Point beginning Thursday.
The duo hopes their preparation at home will translate to success on Lake DuBay this weekend. They finished second in their regional qualifier on the Mississippi backwaters in late May, and are one of 85 teams competing for the championship.
Laufenberg, 23, and Stout, 20, have spent many weekends over the past few years competing in tournaments both close to home and around the country. They hardly spend any time together during the week due to conflicting work schedules, but also because they choose to divide and conquer to gain a better sense of what the fish are doing.
"Every time I'm in my room he's not in his and when he's in his, I'm not in mine, so we're just kind of doing our own thing," Laufenberg said. "For him to be out there in the evening and I'm out there in the morning through the midday, it kind of lets us see everything that's going on on the river on any given day. We can put that together in a tournament, make something work out of it."
Laufenberg has a traditional bass fishing boat, while Stout uses a smaller, aluminum boat which allows him to access shallower waters between Pool 5 and Pool 7 on the Mississippi River. They typically use Laufenberg's boat in tournaments.
When they do finally share the same space on the water, they usually land something big thanks to their joint-effort style, and their ability to adapt to fishing conditions on the water.
"A lot of times that's when we do our best in tournaments is when everybody's struggling," Stout said. "There's nobody really whacking on them and we just go out there and just put your head down and keep concentrating and fish as hard as you can all day long. A lot of times that seems to pay off for us better than the tournaments where everybody's catching fish."
Laufenberg said their mental preparation is important as well. They approach each tournament the same way despite the level of competition they face.
"I'm just as excited to go to Lake DuBay, Wisconsin, as I would be to go to Lake Okeechobee, Florida," Laufenberg said. "Honestly, just to be competing at that level, that's really the most exciting part."
Both men became hooked on bass fishing at an early age. Stout picked up the trade out with his father, who competed in tournaments around the area. Laufenberg said he started watching tournaments on ESPN every weekend and had his first bass fishing boat by his early teens.
They met in college, and struck a friendship through fishing. They now live together, and drive across the country together catching fish and becoming closer friends.
Things do get competitive, but at a level that makes both men stronger fishermen and the team more competitive.
"We say goodnight to each other and talk about fishing a little bit at the end of the day, and we're friends," Laufenberg said.
The duo head the Winona State bass fishing club, a group of about 20 people. Laufenberg serves as president, and encourages anyone to join the team. You can find out more information at the group's Facebook page, or contact Laufenberg via email here.
After the Carhartt Championship, the top eight individuals will face each other in a single-elimination three-day tournament. The winner will compete in the 2016 Bassmaster Classic. You can read more information about the bracket tournament here.