November 8, 2010
Years ago, when I was a young student at the University of Florida (UF), one of my instructors got me involved with competitive bass fishing. Although I fished throughout my youth, I had no real exposure to bass tournaments until that time.
My professor was a member of a local bass club, and after fishing together a few times, he suggested I attend one of their club meetings. I did, and that introduction opened up a whole new world of competitive angling.
The club called themselves the Bassmasters of Gator Country. During the meeting, I listened as the savvier anglers shared their tournament winning tips with the other members. I was intrigued by the exchange and when it came time to take entries for the next club tournament, I jumped in. They scheduled a night tourney for Lake Weir in North-Central Florida, and my first draw was none other than Shaw Grigsby. That experience is one I’ll never forget.
Shaw was a great partner; he showed me many tips and techniques, and as I recall, Shaw finished second, narrowly missing the win by mere ounces. For me, the tournament proved to be a real challenge—I lost my best fish right at sunset (one we estimated over 6-pounds), which made for a very long and disappointing evening. We fished hard all night and Shaw never let up.
The Bassmasters of Gator Country was a strong club with many talented anglers. I learned some valuable lessons from its members. Over those next few years, the club won three Top-6 State Team Championships, which helped launch both mine and Shaw’s careers.
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Fast-Forward 25 Years
A few days ago I received a call from Dennis Croyle, president of the University of Florida (UF) bass team. He wanted to know if I would speak at their next club meeting. I agreed.
This wasn’t the first time I spoke to the UF club. Last year, about this same time, I met with a group of about 30 or so students, all of whom exhibited a strong passion for fishing. The UF club was new then and somewhat divided—a few preferred saltwater, but most were bass enthusiasts. For an hour I spoke on how I got my start in competitive fishing and how I had since utilized my UF degree as a writer and illustrator for various fishing publications. It was kind of like a homecoming.
After my presentation I fielded some questions ranging from how to tie certain knots to how to get sponsors. It was at that first meeting that I realized how serious college fishing was becoming.
Better Than College Football
Anyone following college sports knows the Gator football team is struggling. Since Tim Tebow left, the games have been painful to watch. Hopefully soon, they will regain their winning ways. In the meantime, Gator Nation has the UF fishing team to cheer for.
The UF club has won two regional competitions and one national title, all of which are part of FLW’s College Fishing Series. Through these victories the club has earned nearly $250,000 for the University in less than one year! I’d bet that’s more cash flow than soccer, swimming, and volleyball combined.
With their recent victory on Lake Monroe in Florida, the club advanced its top team to next year’s national championship. Even better, a second UF team has also qualified by finishing among the top-5 finalists. No other school has achieved that distinction.
The top two-man team includes Jake Gipson and Matt Wercinski, both graduating seniors. The second qualifying team is comprised of undergrads, Dennis Croyle and Travis Gates. A third UF team narrowly missed qualifying by finishing sixth at the regional. With depth like that, UF fishing shows no problems with recruitment.
Next April the Gators’ top two qualifying teams will head to Kentucky Lake for the FLW College Fishing Championship. The event will be hosted by Murray State University. Twenty-five college teams from campuses around the country will compete on one of the best bass lakes in the world at absolute prime time. With the shallow bite sure to be on and a ledge bite developing, there’s no telling which pattern will dominate.
As a UF grad and new fan to college fishing, I’m anxious to see how the Gators will do.