Only a few fish their way through college

Lone Star Outdoor News

The sport of bass fishing has exploded at the collegiate level, but the scholarships haven’t.

Five years ago, there were about 100 bass fishing clubs on campuses. Today, there are more than 600, according to FLW Outdoors. Despite the sport’s booming growth, East Texas Baptist is one of a handful of schools nationally that offer true scholarships — and the only one in Texas. Scholarships have not kept up with the pace according to Kevin Hunt, FLW’s director of tournament operations for college fishing. He could only name a few that offered scholarships: Bethel, Dallas Baptist, Adrian and East Texas Baptist.

Dallas Baptist University and Adrian College in Michigan offer what are called “fishing scholarships.” The schools provide student anglers a bass boat, a truck to haul it, tackle, and pay their tournament fees, food expenses, lodging and so on. Students are responsible for tuition and books. Still, such assistance furnishes team members with an edge over anglers at most other schools, who either pay for everything or have to solicit sponsors.

Bethel University was the first to offer partial bass fishing scholarships in 2010. Colleges and universities haven’t been racing to copy the Tennessee school. And LSON couldn’t find a single school in the country that’s stepped up to offers student anglers a full ride. As one young collegiate angler put it on “Scholarships aren’t really a thing for fishing.”

ETBU is at the forefront of schools trying to change that.

Students there receive $5,000 annual scholarships,  according to head coach Cameron Burger, who also serves as ETBU’s director of Construction Management. It’s not a full ride, but it helps with their tuition and books. And their food, gas, boat gas, tournament fees and lodging are picked up by the university. New Skeeter performance boats transport the students in style, thanks to a sponsorship agreement with the company, based in Kilgore. Emblazoned on each boat’s side is Mark 1:17, “Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”

All the schools offering scholarships are smaller religious schools. In collegiate bass fishing, there is no NCAA. Therefore, community colleges and smaller schools such as East Texas Baptist (enrollment: 1,450) fish against goliaths such as the University of Alabama, Cabela’s School of the Year for bass fishing in 2016.
Burger said the scholarships allow ETBU to set itself apart and get an edge on recruiting. ETBU’s high school recruits are signed to letters of intent, just like football players.

Burger said he meets with about four prospective team members monthly. He requires them to send him a fishing résumé and biographical information. With no overseer like the NCAA around, collegiate fishing tournaments can offer money and gift cards to winners. Anglers who receive no backing from their schools often pocket at least some of the funds. But at some schools, such as ETBU, winnings go to the school.