MARTIN, Tenn. — Many intercollegiate sports teams never achieve a top-20 national ranking. Such is not the case for the UT Martin collegiate bass anglers team. Since forming two years ago, the team has received national attention, including a top-20 national ranking in fall 2007 and a 15th place finish at the Under Armour College Bass National Championship, July 9-11, at Lake Maumelle in Little Rock, Ark. Now recognized as a sport club by the university and supported by commercial sponsors, the bass anglers team is positioned to remain competitive in the world of college bass fishing.
UT MARTIN BASS ANGLERS – The University of Tennessee at Martin’s collegiate bass anglers team includes members (from left) Kevin Strobel, of Clarksville; Ben Ferguson, of Union City; Slayton Gearin, of Gleason; and Brian Walker, of Dresden.
Sanctioned by the Collegiate Bass Anglers Association, the amateur sport appears to be growing in popularity among college students. Kevin Strobel, a senior business administration major from Clarksville, is the UT Martin team’s vice president. In 2007, he said some 30 schools participated in the national championship tournament; this year, more than 50 schools registered, according to the tournament Web site. Among the schools also sponsoring bass fishing teams are Murray State, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Auburn University and UT Knoxville.
Strobel, 23, remembers his dad taking him fishing for the first time when he was about six years old, and he’s literally been hooked ever since. High school friend and recent UT Martin graduate Houston Smith, also of Clarksville, recruited Strobel to join the team. Although he pursues all kinds of fish, Strobel especially enjoys the challenge of bass fishing.
“ … Bass are more of a tournament fish, and they come in different sizes, weights and lengths, and you gotta have a certain length to turn these fish in for your weight,” Strobel said. In Tennessee, he said, the approved length for a large-mouth bass is 15 inches, spotted bass are 12 inches and small-mouth 15 to 18 inches. (Private ponds have no restrictions.) Tournament points are earned based on the weight of “keepers” caught.
The UT Martin team has 16 members and is open to any student. Team members pay $50 annually to participate and must earn at least 250 points on the team’s point-standing system to receive sponsor benefits, a system that levels the playing field for everyone on the roster. Strobel said the point system is fair “because you can go out there one day and not catch anything” and then the same person have a great day catching fish the next time out.
Many team members own boats, so the team is divided into boaters and non-boaters. During past pre-tournament meetings, the boaters drew to choose non-boater fishing partners. This year, the team will use a computer program to assure that team members fish with each other at least one time. Regardless how members are paired, everyone is guaranteed to fish. “We’ve got more boats than we do non-boaters,” he added.
Practice often involves pre-fishing tournament sites and trying to find the fish. “So, you pretty much just want to go in there and cast a few times, and if … you are catching some, just let it go,” Strobel said. “Put your rod and reel down, start the motor and move somewhere else and try to find some more, because you never know if those fish that you’re starting to catch that day are going to be there tomorrow, so you just gotta keep finding different spots.” There are no pre-fishing restrictions for local tournaments, but national tournaments do restrict pre-fishing, he said.
Major tournaments require participants to follow specific rules to qualify, and rules and license requirements vary by state. Team members are briefed on the rules and then required to sign waivers before a tournament begins. “One real strict rule that they do abide by is anytime that big motor’s on you have to wear that life jacket, and if you get caught without it you’re disqualified from the tournament,” Strobel said.
Strobel has worked hard to secure several commercial team sponsors and a faculty adviser, Dr. John Overby, from the College of Business and Public Affairs. The Office of Campus Recreation also supports the team, and to increase awareness, the team will have an exhibit in the Tennessee Soybean Festival through Sept. 7, in Martin.
Gina McClure, director of campus recreation, said the university supports the team to “meet the needs of a diverse student population.” She said that people often associate recreation with traditional sports, “But recreation really does expand into other things such as our clay target club, such as the bass anglers. … It’s just a little bit different, and I think we’re really trying to stretch out and meet the needs of our student body.”
As for the successful run in the Arkansas tournament, Slayton Gearin, of Gleason, and Kevin Shorey, of Thompson Station, represented the UT Martin team. Gearin, a junior marketing major, and his partner pre-fished Lake Maumelle for two days and were told that five to six pounds of fish per day would win the tournament. They were also told to keep fishing, even if a storm blew in, because the bass would move to shallow water and start biting.
The tournament opened with cloudy weather the first day, which Gearin said caused the fish to roam. The team managed to catch only two or three keepers by late morning. However, a storm developed, and following the advice they received, the pair kept fishing through the rough weather. They managed to catch four keepers, including one that Gearin said was among the biggest fish caught that day. “And that’s what made our day the first day. … The storm lasted for 30 minutes, and that’s what made us get our solid fish that first day that put us in the top five,” Gearin said.
The second day of fishing wasn’t so kind, and the team finished in 15th place. But, the experience was still positive for both Gearin and Shorey. “It’s just a real good tournament – met a lot of good people, and everybody our age being interested in the sport made it interesting for us,” Gearin said.
Next up for the team is the National Collegiate Bass Fishing Tournament, a five-day tournament, Sept. 18-20, on Lake Lewisville near Ft. Worth, Texas. Strobel said that the team’s top-four points leaders will likely represent UT Martin.
Looking to this event and beyond, Strobel is optimistic about the future of competitive bass fishing at UT Martin and at the college level.
“It’s a sport out there in the college world right now. … Not everybody can get on the football team. Not everybody can get on the baseball team. A lot of people can get on the fishing team,” he said, adding, “And plus it’s something that you can enjoy.”
Teammate Slayton Gearin agrees that the sport will only continue to grow, and he’s grateful that the university supports the team. “It’s unbelievable to have access to this (at UT Martin), …” he said.