One metric of the growth of bass fishing has been the increasing number of colleges that offer the opportunity for students to compete on school-sponsored bass fishing teams. However, it has always been a struggle for college coaches to connect with high school anglers – until now. B.A.S.S. officials announced that this fall, a total of 100 high school anglers will have the opportunity to showcase their talents in front of colleges for three days during the inaugural Abu Garcia Bassmaster High School Combine.
Sports Destination Management caught up to Hank Weldon, senior manager of the B.A.S.S. College and High School program, to learn about the program, scheduled for October 15-17 in Decatur, Alabama.
SDM: Was the concept of a bass fishing combine something new this year?
Hank Weldon: This is something we have dreamed of for years. B.A.S.S. is constantly looking for ways to grow the high school and college platforms and give young anglers opportunities to excel not only in the sport but also in the industry. The problem has been that coaches have told us if they wanted to see these kids, they had to go to tournaments – and tournaments are usually regionalized; you only get kids fishing who are in your area. A combine that would bring everyone together was the best solution for everyone. What better way than to give college coaches a chance to see all of the skills these high school anglers possess and possibly award scholarships?
SDM: Any idea how much scholarship money is out there for collegiate bass fishing?
Weldon: Oh, I’d say there are millions out there, but you need to break it down a little. A kid could walk away with a $120,000 offer, which is $30,000 per year for four years. Not many schools can offer a full scholarship. Will 100 students walk away from our combine with scholarship offers? Probably not but I would love it if they could!
SDM: Do any of the students or coaches use the software platforms like CaptainU or Next College Student Athlete?
Weldon: I don’t think they’re using that – I think the coaches are going to state tournaments and hoping they can see students who might be a good fit for their program.
SDM: Is bass fishing continuing to increase at the college level?
Weldon: Yes – there are at least one or two programs starting up each year.
SDM: No programs were eliminated during the pandemic?
Weldon: No schools are closing their programs, which is really good news.
SDM: Bass fishing is not a championship sport at the NCAA level.
Weldon: None of these programs are technically running at the varsity level, and many of the schools offering them are NAIA or Division II or III schools. That’s part of why the coaches have had a hard time connecting with the students outside their immediate area.
SDM: How many schools have committed to the combine so far?
Weldon: We had a goal of 15 and we’re already at 17 so we have exceeded our goal right there. We’ve also had a lot of interest from students.
Editor’s note: B.A.S.S. reports that among the schools who will be represented at the program are the following:
Adrian College (Michigan)
Bethel University (Tennessee)
Blue Mountain College (Mississippi)
Bryan College (Tennessee)
Campbellsville University (Kentucky)
Carson-Newman University (Tennessee)
Dallas Baptist University (Texas)
Drury University (Missouri)
Emmanuel College (Georgia)
Faulkner University (Alabama)
Florida Gateway College (Florida)
Kentucky Christian University (Kentucky)
University of Kentucky (Kentucky)
University of Montevallo (Alabama)
University of North Alabama (Alabama)
Wabash Valley College (Illinois)
Information on other bass fishing opportunities for high school anglers can be obtained from this link on the Bassmaster website.
SDM: You chose Decatur, Alabama to host the combine. What factors went into your site selection?
Weldon: Decatur Morgan County was just a really good choice. There is close access to water, an extremely large dock space so that each college can each bring at least one boat, a place to house the students, plus it was an ideal walking distance to where our indoor activities are. It’s also centrally located – you’re only 650 miles away from cities like Detroit and it hits our core area of Alabama and Tennessee in terms of the concentration of high school anglers.
SDM: The event takes place in October – what made you decide to pick that time frame?
Weldon: Fall works best for us. Most competitive events are done by that time, so we can concentrate on the combine at that point. Plus, college coaches are really busy in the springtime. We want them to be able to come out and spend the time with these students and fall is when they are more likely to be able to do that.
SDM: Is the combine set up like a fishing tournament?
Weldon: No, not at all like that; they won’t actually be fishing. They’ll be showcasing their fishing skills, though. The first day, we’ll have three skill challenges, all using Abu Garcia rod and reel combinations – not the beginner set-ups but really good equipment, by the way. The first challenge is to see each student’s skill with operating the electronic fish detection equipment. Coaches can ask them what they’d do in certain situations. The next challenge is timed – we want to see how quickly they can tie the knot of their choice to a lure. The knots will be machine-tested for strength. They’ll also have casting contests – one is a long cast contest, similar to a long drive in golf, but another will be casting accuracy; they’ll have a series of targets to try to reach using their dominant casting arm; if they are able to finish up before their allotted time, they can try using their non-dominant hand. The coaches will have seating so they can see what’s going on in each station.
It’s going to be fun and competitive – not only will we have students who will be the best at any given skill, but we’ll be able to name the best all-around at a variety of skills. It’s going to be an exciting, super-busy event.
SDM: Will the students get to meet with the coaches one on one after that?
Weldon: Yes – after the first day, colleges will have the opportunity to select anglers for a “second look” where they can further explore everything that angler has to offer and see if they would be a good fit for their fishing program. It will also give the kids the chance to learn more about the college and what it offers.
SDM: Something we have seen recently has been the growth of non-traditional sports, including bass fishing, which is a great thing since not all kids want to do stick and ball sports but they like the idea of representing their school, being part of a team and competing against other schools.
Weldon: That’s the best thing. We hear from parents all the time, whether their kids are on the junior or college platform: “My kid would not have gone to school if it were not for fishing.”