Fishing is more than just a recreational activity for sophomores Ethan Flowers and Cole Swede, who represent Harding at bass fishing tournaments across the country.
The Bass Fishing Team competes in collegiate tournaments within Fishing League Worldwide (FLW.) The competitions consist of one-day angling contests where a team of two fishermen compete against 130 boats from 80 different schools.
Although the team competes against a lot of Division I schools, Flowers believes angling is also an individual competition.
“When you are fishing it is not a competition between you and the other boats; it is a competition between you and the fish,” Flowers said.
According to FLW rules, teams are given eight hours on the water to fish at each tournament, and each team is allowed to weigh in no more than five fish.
The scoring is determined by the total weight of the five fish in pounds, and is measured to the nearest ounce.
According to FLW, teams may catch
any combination of five largemouth,
spotted, redeye or smallmouth bass. Each fish must be 12 inches or longer in length and alive at weigh in. Every dead bass presented at weigh in suffers a four ounce penalty.
The teams compete for $1,000 to $2,000 in scholarships and a chance to qualify for FLW College Fishing National Championship. The top 10 percent of every regular season competition qualifies for nationals.
Flowers and Swede qualified for nationals for their second consecutive year at the Sam Rayburn Tournament on Feb. 4. The team placed 8th. They caught five fish weighing a total of 17 pounds, 2 ounces.
Last year, at the national tournament the team placed 44th in the country. Currently, the team is ranked among the top 30.
Bass fishing is more than just luck, president of the Bass Fishing Team, senior Lane Carger, said. The team begins preparations for competition weeks in advance.
“We use topographic maps and compare Google maps to that map so we can get an idea of the lake before we get there,” Swede said.
The team also does further testing closer to the date of the tournament, Flowers said.
“Two days prior we will go to where the tournament is at and we will pre-fish a day or two, to figure out the fish and see how they relate to our baits and the banks,” Flowers said. “We will make sure our lines and knots are good. You do not want to lose a big fish in the tournament.”
Along with the competitive team, Harding also has a recreational side where people can go and fish together.
“It is a club anyone can join who wants to. We don’t just fish tournaments,” Carger said. “We are working on developing the club into a recreational activity where guys can come and meet other guys that enjoy fishing.”
The team is working with Costa del Mar, a professional fishing store to develop a Trout Unlimited chapter here in Searcy, Carger said. The chapter will encourage restoration of marine habitats, promote fishing in the community and teach kids how to fish.
Teaching kids how to fish is close to the heart of many of the members on the team because they all learned to fish when they were young, Flowers said.
“Fishing means everything to me. I am so invested into it because my dad started me when I was young,” Swede said. “Fishing has a competitive aspect and it is always changing unlike basketball,
baseball and football. It is always diverse. I have so many hours and so much money invested into it that it is a big part of my life.”
According to Flowers, fishing also brings back memories of his childhood.
“When I think of fishing, I think of my
dad,” Flowers said. “He taught me how to fish, and it is a way we have spent a lot of time together. Fishing is something we will always have, and (makes me) think of my family.”
The next tournament will be held on the Red River in Shreveport, Louisiana, Saturday, Sept. 23. Nationals will also be held on the Red River May 30-June 2. The event will be televised and the winning team will be awarded a $30,000 prize package.
Written by Raianne Mason and Lexi Hoagland