No one in the Heartland needs a doctor to know that the winter-that-wasn’t has provided a perfect breeding ground for an epidemic of fishing fever.
And the Kansas State University Fishing Team is no more immune than weekend anglers. But there aren’t many parallels between a solo fisherman who spends a weekend afternoon getting his boat and fishing tackle ready for the season and what the 30 or so team members — mostly from Kansas but several from Missouri and beyond — have to do to get ready for this year’s tournament season.
Team members meet weekly, and for the club officers in particular, there’s an array of year-round responsibilities: communicating via social media and otherwise, scheduling activities, appearing with youth groups, fundraising (the team’s Big Bass Bash is set for next month at Melvern Lake), attending sport shows, and attracting and keeping sponsors. Still it can be hard for an outsider to grasp the serious side of a fishing team.
“We get the line, ‘Wow that must be nice, going to school to learn how to fish.’ from a lot of people that we talk to,” said club president Travis Blenn, a junior from Westmoreland, Kan., who is majoring in park management and conservation.
“I just laugh. Because while bass fishing plays a big part in my time here at K-State, I’m here more importantly to study and find a job.”
The team has been around since 2004 and has compiled a remarkable record, including two national championships. Ryan Patterson of Garden Plain, Kan., won the 2012 FLW College Fishing National Championship, fishing solo. In 2016, Kyle Alsop of Overland Park and Taylor Bivins of Manhattan won the Bassmaster College Series National Championship. Over the years, there have been many other high finishes.
Mastery of fishing is not a prerequisite for club membership but being a good student of the art of angling is certainly a plus.
Blenn got to fish with then-K-State freshman Sheldon Rogge at the 2014 TBF High School State Championship, an experience that piqued his interest in the team.
“At first I wasn’t sure it was something that I wanted to in invest that much time and money into,” he said. “But after I won the state championship and then got to meet all the members of the team, there was no doubt that the rest of my time at K-State was going to be spent on the fishing team.”
The team’s sponsorship coordinator, Florida native Tyler Nekolny, who is majoring in wildlife and outdoor enterprise management, had considerable high-school experience fishing his home waters, but he admits that he was “out of his league” when he moved to the Midwest.
“My first semester I did very poorly (fishing). That winter, I asked the team’s adviser at the time, Doug Smith, for help. Since then he has become my mentor, tournament partner and a great friend. He continuously teaches me how to approach new bodies of water and break it down efficiently, notice sudden changes, how to lock into what the fish are doing that given day and, most importantly, fish the moment and don’t dwell on the things you can’t control.”
The idea that strategy is the key to catching fish — rather than techniques or tactics — might sound a little Zen-like. But Nekolny makes a persuasive case, one that any casual fisherman can utilize.
“The understanding of fish movements, I believe is probably the most important concept to understand in bass fishing. … Find the bait, find the fish. The only exception to that, I believe is the spawn,” he said.
“In winter, a large portion of your bass population will be deeper, and suspending near the thermocline, because that is where the shad are most comfortable. From winter to spring, the fish will follow the shad along the channels into the creeks. … (After the spawn), the females head back toward the channels to the bait to start heavily feeding, and the males start protecting their fry.
“The females will stay in the deeper, shad-plentiful sections of the creeks till the shad finish spawning and start heading back to the main river channel. Males will more often stay shallow after leaving their fry and feed up. They take the channels out to deeper water, with the females following a very similar path to the one they took in. Once they reach the main river channel, it’s now summer.
“The fish will stay there till the shad start moving back up to the shallows for the pre-winter feed-up. The fish will use the creek channels to head back just as they did in spring. In the fall, the fish are gorging themselves to fatten up for winter. Find the bait, find the fish. From fall to winter, they follow the channels back out to main lake and suspend with the bait.”
Nekolny’s guidance dovetails nicely with Blenn’s advice on how fishermen should approach a body of water, particularly one they’re not familiar with.
“(Do) your homework before you get on the water,” he said “Going over lake maps and considering the time of year is one of the first things I look at when going to a lake I’ve never fished before.”
Basic concepts, perhaps. But also championship proven.
Will this cure that fever? Unlikely. But it should help with the symptoms.
BIG BASS BASH:
Big Bass Bash
▪ WHAT: K-State Fishing Team fundraiser at Melvern Lake
▪ WHEN: April 22; Check-in 5 a.m.; first cast 6:30 a.m.
▪ AT STAKE: $1,000 guaranteed payout. Entry fee: $75. Details:KSUFishingTeam.com