Football, basketball, baseball, soccer and even lacrosse are some sports that some to mind when you’re dealing with college athletics.
But just because a sport isn’t regulated by the NCAA, doesn’t mean that its competitive edge is any less relevant. As a matter of fact, the fastest growing collegiate sport has nothing to do with the NCAA, and it’s participants are quite content with that.
Believe it or not, the sport is angling, or in layman’s terms, bass fishing. The world of collegiate angling has exploded throughout the country, with hundreds of colleges and universities of all sizes competing on the same level.
Schools as big as Indiana and Arkansas down to schools you may have never heard of, like Fairmont State and Hardin-Simmons, compete year-round in lakes across the nation for cash prizes that can reach as high as $5000.
Don’t think that the University of South Carolina is exempt from the angling craze. The Gamecocks have had a bass fishing club since 2009, but it is just now picking up speed with a revival of new members from last year, all of them freshman.
“I knew about college angling from my days angling in high school,” said sophomore Hampton Anderson. “But when I came here me and a bunch of other guys basically took the program over. It’s taken a complete 180 since.”
Anderson is a former two-time high school state champion angler from Anderson, SC who has helped “Anglers @ USC” become the organization that it is today. His fishing partner, sophomore Zack Davis, said that he was a part of the team before he even enrolled in the University.
“I had contacted the team after transferring here from Centre College in Kentucky,” Davis said. “I had contacted the president and told him that I wanted to be a part of this team. It’s a great opportunity for someone whose been bass fishing their whole life.”
But according to the pair, you don’t have to be an advanced angler to be a part of the organization. Anyone is welcome to join the team, even if you don’t have a boat, rod and reel. Not all of the members of the team are on a competitive basis; a majority of them are casual anglers who just enjoy fishing.
But to the competitive members, this is no casual activity. Sure, some folks can say that calling fishing a “sport” is a bit of a stretch, but according to Davis, it’s all about the work you put into angling that makes it one.
“You have got to put your time on the water if you’re going to be successful,” Davis said. “Lord knows you spend a lot of money too. But you have to know the seasonal feeding patterns, where fish like to gather on the lake, what kind of bait they’re biting and how they want it presented.”
FLW Outdoors, who is more noted for putting on high stakes professional tournaments that dole out six-figure prizes, stands as one of the governing bodies of collegiate angling. FLW’s college circuit is the biggest in the country, covering 13 states in a span of seven months, and it’s only getting bigger.
But FLW isn’t the only group that will put on tournaments. Other major angling organizations like Bassmaster and Boat U.S. have their own colligate circuits too. Even universities will host their own tournaments, like Georgia Southern’s Collegiate Series that runs from February to May and is hosted at five different lakes in three different states.
As big and popular as the sport has become, the University of South Carolina has not taken notice. According to Anderson, all Anglers @ USC has struggled to get any financial support from the school. All they have been able to get is the permission to use the school’s logo on their apparel.
“In a weekend I’ll spend 300 dollars for entry fees and 200 dollars gassing up the boat, and that doesn’t account for the gas I put in my truck to travel,” Anderson said. “Clemson gave their bass fishers a 20,000 dollar grant. We’re the ones on NBC Sports Network and ESPNU representing USC with their logo, but we still don’t get anything.”
But while the school doesn’t give the organization financial support, Anglers @ USC has benefited from numerous local bait and tackle sponsors. Optimum Baits, Spider Wire and Abu Garcia are just a few of the companies that have reached out in support of the Gamecock anglers.
“It used to be that the guys before us would have to bug these companies for sponsorship,” Davis said. “But now we have boxes of bait showing up with companies wanting us to try their stuff and even put their logo on our shirts. It just goes to show how big its gotten in the past year.”
Davis, Anderson and the other 18 members of the “Anglers @ USC” hope that their organization can keep gaining traction and popularity, just like the sport that they compete in.