College fishing is probably the level most affected by this explosion in popularity. Today it requires a huge amount of dedication to be competitive as a college angler and to be recruited by some of the top teams in the country. In this article I will be discussing what I have found to be the three most important tips to becoming a successful college fisherman from my own experiences, experiences of my teammates, input from Caleb Taylor of A1 Angler Development, and from conversations with Coach Seth Borton the coach of the Adrian College Bass Team.
College bass fishing is a fast growing sports in college sports and it is rapidly developing into one of the most competitive platforms young anglers can fish. From the pros on down to high school, more anglers are becoming involved and in order to be successful it now requires more passion, knowledge, and skill than ever.
Tip #1: Get Started and Get Noticed
The first thing anyone interested in eventually fishing in college or beyond must do is to actually get involved in tournaments at their current level. A common misconception at the high school level is that your school has to have a bass team for you to compete in high school tournaments, but this isn’t true.
For the Student Angler Federation (SAF) tournaments run through FLW you do not need to be a part of a school affiliated club or team to register. For Bassmaster high school events the only prerequisite for registering is that you are a part of a Bassmaster sanctioned club which is very simple for two or more anglers to set up.
What may be the biggest hurdle for a high school angler is finding a boat and boat captain to fish tournaments with. If you or an immediate family member doesn’t own a boat you can fish out of, the task of finding someone to take you out may seem very daunting. However, it may be easier than you think. Fortunately for us, the bass fishing community is a very tight knit group and oftentimes willing to help a young angler get started.
A good place to start looking for someone to captain for you would be any facebook forum for local tournaments. Often those who fish these are very receptive to young anglers trying to break into the sport. If this doesn’t work out then the next place to look is among the ranks of current college anglers. Many of us who fish at the college level now were in your same shoes just a few years ago. We understand your struggle and in most cases are willing to help.
Tip #2: Be Prepared for More Than Just the Fish
Although there are many people willing to help young anglers, fishing is in no way an inexpensive sport. Due to how fast the number of participants is growing many resources and volunteers are being stretched very thin. Therefore, similar to any other sport that one may participate in, fishing does require monetary investment on the side of the angler.
Most of this cost comes in the form of tournament expenses such as gas, lodging, and entry fees, as well as any equipment you may need. Unlike some other sports these expenses do not come in the form of a one time “pay to play” fee but rather accrue over the course of the year. In order to avoid spending more than intended during a season you may wish to create a budget to keep spending in check. Don’t let cost discourage you as there are ways to make tournament fishing more affordable, but do know in order to compete at a high level, just like any other sport, you will need to pay.
As college fishing becomes more competitive getting recruited by some of the more successful teams in the country is becoming more difficult. Once you find a way to start fishing high school tournaments it is important to record your finishes and start building a resume. This will be extremely helpful when talking with college coaches and teams as you will have a physical record of where you fished and how you finished. It is also necessary to schedule face to face meetings with coaches or club presidents and maintain contact with them until you are ready to choose a school.
For example, in my specific case I was dead set on fishing for Adrian College so I met with Coach Borton the summer after my junior year. I then continued to contact him giving updates on how I had been doing in tournaments and what I was doing to get better. Face to face meetings also help coaches to gage the “intangibles” of an angler, which are the most important factors considered in recruitment. These attributes include passion, work ethic, perseverance (especially when faced with tough conditions), willingness to learn, and how well you work with teammates. Regardless of how attractive your resume may appear it is likely a coach will not be interested in adding you to their team if you don’t possess these other qualities. When looking to get recruited onto a team the most important thing to keep in mind is to treat it just as serious as recruitment for any other sport and do anything possible to set yourself apart from other anglers.
What is the first thing that comes to mind when I ask you what you think the most important thing a college angler should focus on is? Probably something that has to do with actual bass fishing, maybe being versatile or making quick adjustments based on the conditions. What if I told you that all the aspects that require the most attention and focus in order to make you successful have nothing to do with the bass at all? In my opinion, it is the off the water aspects such as trailering experience, being able to fix mechanical issues, tournament preparation, and staying on top of things academically that are the most important. This is because if something goes wrong and you aren’t able to fix it or prevent it from happening in the first place, you won’t even be able to make it to the tournament. Luckily these things are all very easy to start working on before you get to college.
The best way to improve on all these off the water aspects of tournament fishing is simply spending more time preparing for tournaments and being on the road. However, there are other ways to get better. To work on trailering skills drive the boat and tow vehicle you are running whenever possible, even if someone is captaining for you ask to drive. Another great way to improve on pulling and maintaining a trailer is to get a summer job working somewhere that uses trailers often, such as a landscaping company.
One of the biggest challenges that you will face once you become a college angler will be staying up to date on your school work. It isn’t uncommon to miss an entire weeks worth of classes when traveling to a tournament and managing your work is very important. In some cases when a college program is a sanctioned sport like here at Adrian you must maintain a certain GPA in order to fish, so keeping good grades is mandatory. Once again this is very easy to work on while in high school by practicing good studying habits and working on doing all your homework ahead of time.
Overall there is no substitute for experience when it comes to properly preparing for a tournament and traveling. Therefore the best way to improve on this before you get to college is to simply travel to as many long distance tournaments as possible when you are still in high school.
Tip #3: Out Fish Everyone When No One is Looking
Ultimately what will determine how well you place in your events once you get to college is fishing ability. Obviously, the best way to do this is to simply spend time on the water. But, it is how you spend this time that will determine how much you actually get out of it. How hard you fish during this practice time, when there isn’t a tournament on the line, is what will set you apart from other college anglers.
When competing in college tournaments around the country you will often be faced with situations that force you to fish outside of your comfort zone. Oftentimes, especially if you are from the northern United States, you will be fishing lakes, rivers, and reservoirs you have never been too and where techniques that dominate may be things you have rarely done. In order to prepare for this it is important to force yourself to continue trying new techniques when fun fishing.
Fish new water in new ways even when on your home lake, or even if you are just bank fishing, to get used to fishing unfamiliar scenarios. Along with different techniques, you should also push yourself to fish different types of water. For example, if you predominantly fish natural lakes with no current, find the closest river to you with a population of fish and take time to learn how they set-up and feed in moving water. Even if you have to bank fish or wade the river this will be very beneficial, and help you to not only fish rivers but also many reservoirs such as the TVA lakes where the understanding current is vital.
A great way to get pushed outside your comfort zone as well as gain more knowledge is The Bass Fishing Experience camps put on by the Adrian College Bass Team each year. These are overnight or day camps during which campers are able to get in a boat and fish with members of the team. Over the course of the camp team members teach each camper different techniques through individual instruction while on the water. This is a great way to gain confidence in a number of new techniques that you may have not tried before as well as get a taste of what college fishing is like.
Another great way to expand your horizons and learn new techniques you may not think to try is a subscription to Mystery Tackle Box. Through this subscription, you will receive a box full of different baits in the mail each month. Because you don’t choose exactly what is sent in the box oftentimes you will get lures you may never have even thought to try. Personally, there has been multiple times when I have learned a completely new technique or a different way to fish a bait I thought I already had mastered.
Sometimes there is simply no way to teach yourself a technique or how to fish a certain type of water because there is nowhere available for you to do it. For example, if you live in Michigan it will be extremely difficult and probably impossible to find a lake where you can practice ledge fishing. However, with how easy it is to access information in today’s day and age, there is no excuse to not have all the knowledge necessary to be able to fish whichever technique you want anywhere in the country. In recent years the amount of free fishing related content on Youtube and other platforms has exploded. Simply searching a technique will often lead to hundreds of videos describing where, when, and how to fish it. A great place to start researching new techniques would be the Mystery Tackle Box channel on Youtube, there you will find countless videos on how to fish nearly any bait and situation you can think of. Along with video resources, there are also many great websites where you can read about different techniques. One of the best websites for technique specific reading material is the Karl’s Blog page on the MTB website. Here you can find articles written on everything from flipping creature baits to dragging a dropshot. Research in this manner may not be as effective as on the water practice but it can make you much more prepared for a tournament and give you an edge over your competition.
If you are interested in learning more about college fishing or keeping up with my season and the rest of the Adrian College Bass Team, follow us on Instagram or Facebook: @shane_nelson_fishing and @ACbassteam. For more information on how to sign up for the Bass Fishing Experience camps visit the AC Bass Team Facebook page.
Also make sure to check out the podcast “The Vision Series: How to Fish in College” by AC Bass Team alumni, Caleb Taylor and Nick Marsh on Spotify or at www.howtofishincollege.podbean.com, where they go into great detail on how to become a college angler and their own experiences. Follow them along on Instagram and YouTube to hear more great advice! @caleb_taylor_fishing and @marshfishing.