February 1, 2010 by Curtis Niedermier
Editor's note: This is just one article from a recent issue of FLW Outdoors Magazine, which publishes both a Bass Edition and a Walleye Edition. To learn more about the magazine and how to subscribe, click here.
January is one month of the year when even die-hard anglers won't look at you like a mad man if you'd rather sit in a cozy recliner and watch college football than head to the lake. It's understandable, considering the weather and it being college football bowl season.
As coincidence has it, most bass fishing football fans have something to talk about in January and into February. The top college football teams each season are traditionally from top bass fishing regions of the country, and a day spent arguing the Bowl Championship Series computer rankings gets the heart pumping as much as hunting up the hottest bite.
So, in honor of college football and all forms of collegiate rankings, and in the spirit of friendly college rivalries, it is time for some college debate aimed specifically at anglers.
We surveyed all 2009 National Guard FLW College Fishing anglers in the country on their clubs, their schools, their fishing lifestyles and more, and we scored the results based on the factors we thought most important for a college angler: proximity to bass fisheries, tournament opportunities, club activities, etc. We also interviewed club officers and tournament winners. We then tossed all the information together, combined our "editors' rankings" - completely ignoring the Bowl Championship Series computer scores - and ended up with the results that follow: the top 25 bass fishing colleges.
Some of these colleges host clubs that are long-established, with active members and crowded meetings. Others are new, but their passion for the sport and proximity to great fishing water are sure to draw talented anglers in the future.
If you are about to venture into the college world, pay close attention, take notes even. It's good practice. If you already graduated and your alma mater isn't where you expected it on the list, kick out that footrest, read on and then let us know how you feel. This is college sports, after all. It wouldn't be any fun without debate.
1. North Carolina State University
As if North Carolina wasn't already rife with bass fishing history and tradition, it is also home to the 2010 top bass fishing college. North Carolina State University is in Raleigh, N.C., where Wolfpack anglers, better known as the BassPack, have access to thousands of acres of prime fishing water in the center of the state. They also have put together one of the most organized and established college clubs in the country.
Founded in 2005, BassPack club membership is hovering at more than 50. But don't think all those members will hold anyone back from participating. The club fishes regularly, with monthly qualifying tournaments, invitationals hosted by them and neighboring schools, and the top national collegiate circuits on the schedule.
The club has won two premier national championships, and it also qualified four teams for the 2009 National Guard FLW College Fishing Northern Division Regional Championship.
But what may be most attractive to students is the access to water.
"Just within 50 miles we have Kerr Lake, Falls Lake, Jordan Lake, Lake Wheeler, Harris Lake and some smaller city lakes - we've got I think six of those here within about 10 or 12 miles of the university," said Chris Wood, the head of public relations for the BassPack and a Wake Forest, N.C., native.
The size of the club and availability of boats, plus cooperation with nearby colleges and local bass clubs, make NC State the top college in the country not only for aspiring tournament pros, but those still in the introductory levels. (ncsu.edu)
2. Auburn University
If it is tournament opportunities close to campus you are looking for, Auburn can provide it. The Auburn University Bass Sports Club (AUBSC) is the hosting school for the Southern Collegiate Bass Fishing Series, a popular series throughout the Southeast that has seen its championship event broadcast on the Versus Network. Now headed into its third season in the spring, the series was formed to solve one simple problem: the lack of opportunities for collegiate bass fishing competition.
"At the time, we didn't really have anything to fish between colleges much," Shaye Baker, AUBSC president from Reeltown, Ala., said. "You had the championships in the summer, but you didn't really have anything to fish the rest of the year."
Problem solved. For 2010, the series consists of three qualifiers fished on Alabama lakes and a two-day championship event. The tournaments are fished as two-man teams, with team and school wins awarded, and the upcoming season will allow schools to bring an unlimited number of boats.
In addition to their tournament series, the Tigers fish eight qualifiers chosen from a list of 10 nearby fisheries. Of those fisheries, the types of water they see run the gamut, including the Alabama River and lakes like Eufuala, Harris, Martin, West Point, Jordan and more, giving team members the chance to experience all types of fishing. (auburn.edu/student_info/bass_fishing/)
3. University of North Carolina - Charlotte
You don't have to travel far from the top school on the list to reach school No. 3, and if you live in North Carolina that means you have in-state options. The Charlotte campus of the University of North Carolina is minutes from Lake Norman, site of the FLW Tour National Guard Open for the past three years. It is also minutes from Lake Wylie and only a short drive to Tuckertown Reservoir, High Rock Lake and a handful of other lakes on the Yadkin River chain, a series of lakes known for producing anglers the likes of Tums pro David Fritts and David Wright. That alone is enough to draw looks from aspiring bass pros.
"It's why I chose to come to UNC Charlotte," said Mooresville, N.C., angler Joe Kinchen, the president of the UNC Charlotte Bass Rats. "There are close to nine large lakes within only about 45 minutes driving distance from UNC Charlotte. There are great big-bass lakes in the Yadkin chain of lakes, and it's a great place to learn."
Anglers learn not only bass fishing techniques and what is offered academically on campus, but they learn tournament strategy through invitational events, monthly qualifiers and national tournaments. They also learn to do fundraising. Through work at Lowe's Motor Speedway, FLW Outdoors tournaments, raffles and a variety of smaller outlets, the club was able to cover members' cost of travel for intercollegiate tournament fishing during the 2008 to 2009 school year - a fine perk for anyone on a college budget. (uncc.edu)
4. Virginia Tech
The Bass Fishing Team of Virginia Tech - officially known as the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University - has tasted success on a national scale, having won a major national championship in 2007 and a National Guard FLW College Fishing Northern Division event in 2009. And on the scale of active bass clubs, it is near the top. Community service, sponsor promotion and tournament fishing give many members experiences that aren't far from those of professionals.
Thanks to a sponsorship from the Virginia Lottery, Virginia Tech is able to take a wrapped boat to tournaments, which may put them in their own league in that regards. Throw in Bagley Baits, Columbia, Gamma Line and more, and the Hokies have quite the complex resume of sponsors.
Yet all those sponsorships would be nothing without the fishing, and there is plenty near campus. Claytor Lake is about 30 miles away. Smith Mountain Lake, where the club hosts many of its qualifiers, is less than 80 miles from campus. Those qualifiers regularly produce 10 boats, with about twice that in total active members. But it is not even necessary to go that far - or own a bass boat - to stay on the bite.
"For just fun fishing, a lot of times we'll try to do club fishing days and get canoes and kayaks and float the New River," said Charlie Machek, a recent graduate and co-founder of the club from Midlothian, Va., "which in my experience is the best smallmouth river in the country. That's only 10 minutes from campus." (bassfishingteamatvt.com)
5. University of Wisconsin - Madison
The University of Wisconsin - Madison campus is the largest of the University of Wisconsin System's 26 campuses and 13 four-year schools. Of those schools, five fielded bass clubs that regularly competed in the 2009 National Guard FLW College Fishing Central Division qualifiers, and three made this top-25 list.
By virtue of history, geography and resources, however, Madison takes the top spot. The University of Wisconsin Fishing Team was one of the earliest established college clubs in the nation, having been founded in 1997. As part of the Big Ten Conference, they are eligible to fish the Big Ten Classic bass tournament each season. They also host a pair of tournaments, the Midwest College Shootout in the fall, and the Wisconsin College Shootout in the spring.
Yet, for Madison anglers, life is about more than competitive bass fishing. It's about fishing, in any form they can find. From catfish derbies to musky tournaments with local musky clubs to a weeklong ice fishing trip, with trout, walleyes and panfish thrown in, the Badgers are fish heads. And why wouldn't they be? Madison is covered up in quality fishing water.
"The actual campus is split," said Franklin, Wis., native Lee Zinn, team president. "It's on an isthmus between two lakes."
Those lakes, Lake Mendota to the north and Lake Monona to the south, are part of the Madison chain of lakes, which may be the top bass fishery in the state for both largemouths and smallmouths. The Wisconsin River is only a 30-minute drive from campus, and Green Bay is accessible in a day trip, proving that when it comes to multispecies fishing, you'd be hard-pressed to overtake UW-Madison. (uwfishingteam.com)
Haven't heard of GCSU? Don't worry. Many people haven't. Known by its full name as Georgia College and State University, the public liberal arts college in Milledgeville in central Georgia is home to about 6,500 undergraduate and graduate students. It's small, but in the collegiate bass world, especially in the Southeast, GCSU is a big name.
Campus is no more than seven miles from Lake Sinclair and not much farther from the Oconee National Forest. It's also no trek from Lake Oconee, Jackson Lake or Clarks Hill Lake, either. Plus the Oconee River is within walking distance of campus, and it has put out a fish near the 10-pound mark for GCSU Bass Fishing Team Treasurer, Secretary and charter member Zach Olson.
All the opportunities for fishing are made even better by the climate. When Northern schools are sitting on the ice, the anglers at GCSU are on the water, honing their bass fishing skills for the upcoming tournament season, which is a busy time for team members.
"We had a spot there last spring where we went eight weekends in a row with tournaments," said Olson, of Alpharetta, Ga. "It's real competitive. We get a lot of good sticks just because of the region. But pretty much everyone who puts in the time gets a chance."
For club members, four qualifying tournaments a semester draw on average between 20 and 25 competitors. To help put everyone in a boat, students work with local bass clubs, giving everyone a fair shake at the tournament experience. (gcsu.edu)
7. University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point
Wisconsin team No. 2 to make the list is the University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point. Located near the shores of the Wisconsin River, with Lake Du Bay to the north, Petenwell Lake to the south, the Madison chain of lakes only two hours away, and thousands of other fisheries, both small and large, scattered throughout the area, Stevens Point is an outdoorsman's campus.
Smaller than Madison, Stevens Point campus is attractive for local anglers and hunters, many of whom are part of one of the top natural resources programs in the country. That small-town atmosphere lends well to members of the Big Dawg Fishing Club who prefer to spend much of their time in the woods or on the water.
Although a relatively new club, Stevens Point anglers have taken up to 10 boats to in-state tournaments with their friendly rivals at the Madison campus. They also host their own invitational tournaments and club qualifiers. But again, it's Wisconsin, home of multispecies bliss, so their outings focus on a variety of species. Ice fishing and musky tournaments are popular, with talk floating around of a college musky tournament series.
"The river is a phenomenal place to catch muskies and walleyes," Logan Bliss, the club's president and fisheries and water resources major from Cottage Grove, Wis., said. "For students, if they come here, it's not just all bass fishing. There is a lot of opportunity for them." (uwsp.edu)
8. Murray State University
Located literally down the road from the FLW Outdoors headquarters, the campus of Murray State University is situated at a newly pulsing heart of professional bass fishing. Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley are stars of the tournament-fishing world, and a 10-minute drive puts students on the water, where they learn to fish offshore, flip shallow cover and everything in between. There are even opportunities for traditional river fishing on the nearby Ohio and Mississippi rivers.
The location puts Murray State students in prime position to round out their fishing skills, as evidenced by the Murray State Bass Anglers' recent national championship title and National Guard FLW College Fishing Central Division qualifier win.
"It's a pretty competitive club," said Dan Langton, of Haubstadt, Ind., the club president. "A lot of clubs are just kind of in it just to get into fishing. But we're two-track minded. We're about getting new people into fishing, and we're about being the top college for fishing in the country."
For new anglers, experienced members hold seminars to teach the club about techniques they have mastered. They also participate in eight qualifiers each year, and with 30 members and growing, they average about 10 boats per outing. They fish the annual Battle of the Bluegrass against other Kentucky colleges and regional events in western Kentucky and Tennessee.
Finally, western Kentucky is a land of outdoorsmen, with public land and water freely available for waterfowl, deer and turkey hunting, making Murray State the total package for hook and bullet collegiate outdoorsmen. (murraystatebass.org)
9. Clemson University
Clemson University is another coastal Carolina school surrounded by rich bass fishing heritage. They are also surrounded by water, which is the main draw for bass hunters.
Situated in the northwest part of South Carolina, the campus actually rests within an inside bend of the far upper reaches of Hartwell Lake. Just to the north is Lake Keowee, followed by Lake Jocassee. To the south are Lake Richard Russell and Clarks Hill Lake. Lake Greenwood and Lake Murray are to the east. In other words, there is water everywhere, including lakes that regularly host professional bass fishing trails.
For complete outdoorsmen, Clemson also provides the comfort of a suburban campus with the opportunity to get into the outdoors, courtesy of nearby national forests and rural areas.
"A lot of kids do a lot of trout fishing," said Clemson Fishing President Andy Wicker of Pomaria, S.C. "There is a lot of public land, and a lot of my neighbors have duck boats. Duck hunting is huge here on campus."
The Clemson club is only a little more than a year old, but it is already active and successful. Numbers are growing as well. Wicker estimated that a dozen members own boats, and they have had more than 20 students show up for club tournaments, with skill levels ranging from a couple of Bass Fishing League competitors to complete newbies. (clemson.edu)
10. Georgia Southern University
Returning once again to Georgia, the Georgia Southern Bass Anglers make up another group of college anglers intent on creating their own opportunities for tournament fishing. Campus is about three hours from a major fishery, and traveling out of state for regional events is a drain on the pocketbook. So to make sure there were tournaments within a reasonable distance, they planned their own tournament series to begin in the spring: the Georgia Southern Collegiate Bass Fishing Series.
Anglers will fish as boaters and co-anglers in four qualifying events within Georgia. A three-day championship is set for June at Lake Eufaula in Alabama. Best of all, events pay cash prizes, with part of the $65 entry fees carrying over to the championship.
The club is smaller than many, with less than 20 active members. But GSU anglers are competitive, having already claimed a pair of top-five finishes in 2009 National Guard FLW College Fishing Southeast Division events. Their success has helped them network and spurred a friendly rivalry - call it a competitive friendship - with the GCSU club and others in the region. Plus, having a small club gives every member more opportunities to compete.
"That's our goal," said club president Wesley Maples of Dalton, Ga. "We don't want anybody to have to sit on the sidelines. Even if they can't go to the intercollegiate stuff, we at least make sure they get to go to the qualifiers. So they are going to at least get to fish once a month." (georgiasouthernbass.com)
University of North Alabama: Club members are reimbursed for travel costs by the school, are minutes from Wheeler and Pickwick lakes, and less then three hours from Kentucky Lake and Lake Guntersville. (una.edu)
University of Wisconsin - Whitewater: Located halfway between Madison and Lake Michigan, Whitewater is within driving distance of the top fisheries in the state for a variety of species. (uww.edu/recsports/clubsports/clubs/fishing.html)
Southern Illinois University: Campus is surrounded by small reservoirs and limited-horsepower lakes, making it a great place for fishing out of a budget-priced johnboat. (bassers.rso.siuc.edu/)
University of Tennessee - Knoxville: Campus overlooks the headwaters of the Tennessee River at the upper end of Fort Loudon Lake. (utk.edu)
Purdue University: Founded in 1992 by pro Shad Schenck, the Purdue Bass Club was one of the first college bass clubs in the nation. (web.ics.purdue.edu/~pubass/)
Tarleton State University: Tarleton State won the first-ever National Guard FLW College Fishing event at Falcon Lake. (tarleton.edu)
Indiana University: Also one of the first schools to start a college club in the nation, they competed against Purdue in what was likely the first college bass tournament. (iufishing.com)
Kansas State University: Waterfowl, deer and walleyes combine with bass to offer students great hunting and fishing close to campus. (ksufishingteam.com)
Texas A&M University: The College of Agricultural and Life Sciences offers several majors geared toward fisheries, tourism and environmental sciences for future fishing industry professionals. (anglers.tamu.edu/)
University of Louisville: Louisville is an urban campus, but within reasonable distance of clear mountain impoundments, timber-filled reservoirs, major rivers and lowland impoundments. (louisville.edu)
Texas State University: The San Marcos River runs through campus, Lake Travis is an hour away, and the club fishes qualifiers on Lake Amistad and Choke Canyon. (basscats.com)
University of Florida: Multiple lakes within 10 minutes of campus regularly offer the chance at 10-pound Florida-strain bass. (ufl.edu)
University of Iowa: Students hold tournaments from shore and with local bass clubs so anglers of all skill levels can compete, even if they don't own a boat. (uiowa.edu/~fishing/)
Arizona State University: The club is open to students from three campuses in the Tempe-Phoenix area, which is skirted by a handful of year-round bass fisheries. (asubft.webs.com)
Kennesaw State University: Located near Yamaha's outboard and watercraft headquarters, Kennesaw is a short drive to Allatoona Lake and about an hour from Lake Lanier. (kennesaw.edu)