UPCOMING EVENT: TOYOTA SERIES - 2020 - Lake Eufaula

The Camaraderie of College Fishing

The Camaraderie of College Fishing

(The writer's opinions and observations expressed here are his own, and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views, policies or positions of FLW.)


As the 2015-2016 FLW College Fishing season ends, two new faces – but a similar jersey – stand with the trophy. The team of Hampton Anderson and Chris Blanchette took home the hardware for the University of South Carolina, marking the second year in a row that our in-state neighbors have won the National Championship. As a Clemson student, I might be expected to feel a little angst toward Hampton and Chris, but there is none. Actually, it’s the complete opposite.

But first, let’s jump back in time to the last few days before the start of the FLW College Fishing National Championship on Lake Keowee, when my anticipation for the tournament was growing by the minute. Any outside stress can set a nervous angler off keel, but one issue that no one had to deal with was with a poorly run tournament. The FLW staff and Kevin Hunt, FLW’s college tournament director, laid out the red carpet for every college team. It started with great communication leading up to the tournament, and the fantastic experience carried through the event. The registration meeting on Wednesday night included a great dinner and talks given by FLW pros Matt Arey and Jacob Wheeler. It was a great start to the biggest tournament of the year.

That gives just a little behind-the-scenes view of a collegiate tournament, but to really understand the culture of college fishing, you have to dig a little deeper. If you have never been a part of collegiate fishing, whether through competition, family members or some other facet, you’re missing out on seeing a special culture that includes some of the best acts of sportsmanship.

The collegiate fishing culture gave my partner, Ross Burns, and I a boost before the tournament even started. We expected the tournament to be dominated by sight-fishing, so we knew that Power-Poles would come in handy. Only one issue: Neither Ross’ boat nor mine is equipped with the shallow-water anchors. So we made a call, and Todd and Patrick Walters were kind enough to allow us to run their Ranger Z520 with twin Power-Poles. If you recognize the Walters’ names, it’s because they’re accomplished anglers. Todd recently won the co-angler division at the Costa FLW Series event on Santee Cooper. His son, Patrick, and Patrick’s partner, Gettys Brannon, won the 2015 National Championship while fishing for the University of South Carolina. They actually fished out of the same boat they let us borrow. And you read that right: Anglers from Clemson’s “rival” college, USC, let us use one of their boats to fish the tournament. But that is just the start.

After day one, multiple boats had motor issues, including our boat and Eastern Washington’s. Thankfully, my personal boat was 10 minutes away and could be used for day two. Eastern Washington wasn’t so lucky. Cy Floyd and Travis Opel had pulled their boat 3,000 miles and found themselves left with just a trolling motor. Ross, my partner, offered them the use of his boat, which was two hours away in Columbia. They accepted the offer and followed Ross’ mom down to Columbia to pick it up.

Additionally, one of the Kansas State teams had busted its trolling motor shaft, and I had a complete spare trolling motor and bracket. My dad rushed to get the bracket, and Strickland Marine donated all hardware needed to install it. With a little ingenuity, we were able to “semi-fix” the trolling motor onto K-State’s boat without drilling holes.

Although it was a hectic afternoon, it showed how much other competitors and family members are willing to help. This includes local marinas, which bend over backward to stay open late to help get our collegiate teams back on the water. And this happens at every collegiate tournament, yet it rarely gets publicized.

Even with multiple boats being borrowed early in the tournament, the biggest act of sportsmanship was still yet to come.

On Saturday, the final day, and with just 10 teams competing for a brand-new Ranger and a berth in the Forrest Wood Cup, the Texas A&M team of Matthew McArdle and Josh Bensema did the almost unthinkable. Within striking distance of the win, less than 3 pounds out of the lead, the Texas A&M team was called by the day-two leaders, Illinois State’s Bryce Wegman and Taylor Umland.

Wegman and Umland informed the Aggies that they had spun a hub and would need a ride back to the ramp later in the day. This wasn’t much of an inconvenience, as the two teams had been sharing water. But, as the minutes ticked by, the Aggies didn’t feel right with just taking the Redbirds to the ramp at the end of the day. Instead, after a few phone calls and an OK from Kevin, Matthew and Josh offered to trade boats with Illinois State.

This would significantly hamper Texas A&M’s chances at being the first collegiate team to win the Bassmaster and FLW national championships in the same year, but it could have been the difference in allowing Illinois State to hold its lead. The Aggies said afterward that they felt it was the right move, and I believe showed the true heart of college fishing.

As my time winds down in college, I look back on my FLW College Fishing career with lots of good memories. But the memories that stand above and beyond the wins and losses are the memories I made with new friends from across the country. I will always have a boat to fish in just about anywhere in the country with friends I have made in the past four years, and I will continue to cheer on my buddies as they fish collegiate tournaments and move on to the pro ranks, just as I cheered for two friends I made two years ago while staying in a camper in south Florida: the national champs, Hampton and Chris.

And if you ever get the chance to observe or help at a collegiate tournament, I hope you have a little better understanding of what makes the sport so great.

Tags: college-fishing  isaac-nesbitt  blog 

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