Georgia College fishing team hopes to hook the big one
Pssst, want to know a secret?
Georgia College & State University has a bass fishing team.
And, it’s pretty good, too.
FLW Outdoors, which sponsors a tournament series that attracts the best college teams in the country, ranked the Bobcats sixth in a pre-season poll for the January-February issue of its magazine.
“That’s the big one for college fishing,” team president Matt Henry said of the FLW honor. “It’s kind of unbelievable.”
Henry came to Georgia College in the fall of 2006 with hopes of putting the school atop a competitive fishing wave that was just starting to build. When he and co-founder Jared Kutil worked in 2007 toward making the team a recognized student organization on campus, college teams numbered in the dozens.
Now, the Association of College Anglers counts 235 sanctioned teams for 2010.
“I think about every state except Alaska and Hawaii has at least one college team,” said Henry, an environmental science major from Conyers who will graduate in December.
Georgia College is one of eight schools in the state with a bass team. Georgia Southern, which was 10th in the FLW ranking and sponsors a tournament series itself, heads a list that includes Georgia, Georgia Tech, West Georgia, Morehouse, Gordon College and Abraham Baldwin.
The Bobcats will compete this weekend in Boat U.S. Fox College Sports Nationals on Lake Lewisville in Lewisville, Texas. The tournament, which will be televised on Versus, is among the top ones held each year and an indicator of the sport’s growth.
Georgia College’s two-man units of Walker Smith-Henry, Grant Kelly-Kutil and Jared Hendrix-Zach Olson will be among 167 teams from 90 colleges.
“There were 30 to 40 teams, not schools, the first year,” Henry said. “There were 70 to 80 the next and 120 last year. You could see where this was going.”
Henry certainly could, and while he was working to get things started, he heard that someone else — Kutil — was doing the same. They joined forces.
Dr. Allen Gee, an associate professor of English, agreed to be the club’s advisor. When it reached the required number of seven participants, the team became a recognized student organization in the spring of 2008. Members fished in their first national tournament in the summer with all expenses coming from their pockets.
“A team has to fish in three tournaments to qualify for a national tournament so we split one of ours into two four-hour tournaments,” Henry recalled. “Anything to get started.”
The team survived its first year with no funding and a core group of anglers, some of whom had their own boats and years on the water, and others whose experience was limited to the banks of ponds.
Then last spring, Henry hooked a prize in Smith when he saw the Grayson resident on Lake Sinclair. Smith had the same idea as Henry when he chose to attend Georgia College after a year in junior college — get an education and be able to fish, even between classes if the schedule fit.
“He’d been at school for two years and had a boat here and everything,” said Henry, who hopes to fish professionally. “I told him he needed to join the team.”
Knowing that college fishing was exploding, Smith was taking his own steps to start a team when Henry bumped into him — literally.
“I was at the boat ramp waiting to pull my boat out and Matt pulled in and blocked me,” recalled Smith, who wants to be a professional lake guide. “He said, ‘I’ve been trying to get with you every since I saw your boat (on campus). We need you.’”
About the same time, Kutil picked up a roommate — Josh Futch — who also became a teammate. As a resident of Savannah, Futch was at home in saltwater, but a fish out of water on a lake. He surmised, though, that fishing is fishing and being on the water trumps anything else when time allows.
“I love fishing, and since there was no saltwater, I figured I’d try the other,” said Futch, a junior who has developed into one of the club’s top performers but is missing the U.S. Boat event because of classes.
The team won its first tournament in late March by sweeping the top three places in a 30-boat event on Sinclair..
This week’s tournament will be the team’s biggest — and costliest. The club will use $1,900 of the $2,500 it was awarded last spring from the Student Activity Budget Committee at this event alone.
“That just covers travel to the tournament and lodging,” Henry said. “Boat gas and food are extra.”
Last month, the SABC granted $4,000 of the team’s $7,500 request for the 2010-11 school year. To help out with funding, the club’s Web site — gcsubassteam.com — features Big Bear rods, Buckeye Lures, Tackle Warehouse and Rip-Rap Tackle more prominently than news about the 15-member team.
In addition to money, sustaining what Henry and Kutil started is the club’s other concern. A good showing this week will go a long way toward the experts’ view of Georgia College as a premier destination for high school students who have a passion for fishing.
“The best fishermen our age in the nation will be at this tournament,” said Smith, the club’s incoming president. “We have a great chance to let other guys know they can compete against the best if they come to Georgia College.”