By MATT VINES, LSUS Communications
A return to “fishing how we grew up.”
LSUS angler William Tew said that’s the tactic that he and partner Brayden Nichols employed late in the regular season as the pair logged three top-10 finishes.
They were part of a late-season surge that pushed the LSUS Bass Fishing team to place 15thin the final Bass Pro Shops School of the Year team rankings, the top Louisiana team and the sixth-best public university squad in the country.
“We went back to beating down the banks and stopped trying to be fancy,” said Tew, a Benton native. “We tried to go offshore and find schools of fish, but we got back to fishing how we grew up and throwing baits we’ve been throwing our whole lives.
“We stuck to one part of the lake in practice and learned it, and then fished it during the tournament.”
Points are earned based on where a team’s anglers place in individual tournaments, and LSUS earned half of its 26,400 points in the final month of the year-long season.
LSUS placed sixth in the BoatUS Collegiate Bass Fishing Championship in late May, placing two boats in the Top 25 (including the 10th-place Tew/Nichols in a field of 180).
“The fact we finished sixth on a lake that none of our guys have ever seen is huge,” said LSUS bass fishing coach Charles Thompson, who is finishing his third season at the helm. “For us to finish 15th in the country (in the season rankings) is a big deal – that’s the goal (top 15) we set for ourselves at the beginning.
“This is a program that’s been around since 2006 or 2007, but we’ve grown from four anglers since I got here to 20 anglers. And now these guys are juniors and seniors and experienced on the college stage.”
After Bryant Martin and Luke Batts placed 22nd overall on South Carolina’s Lake Hartwell, they claimed the Louisiana BASS Nation College individual championship on Toledo Bend on June 10 to secure their place in the 2023 College Bass National Championship.
“It was all or nothing at that event, we had to win it to make the (national) championships,” Batts said. “We knew the fish were there – we just had to get to them.
“One thing that’s helped us is we’ve started to break down the lake as a team. We’ve been relying on each other and talking to each other after practice, finding pieces to the puzzle that will put us on top. We’re out to prove that you don’t have to be the biggest school or the one with the most financial leeway to win.”
Nichols/Tew and Martin/Batts will have LSUS company in the Bassmaster College National Championship as anglers Levi Thibodaux and Chance Shelby took fifth at the College Bass Wildcard on June 11.
Tripp Bowman and Matthew Nesbit claimed their championship spot a few weeks ago with a fourth-place spot in the Bassmaster College Series stop on the Red River.
A total of eight LSUS anglers in four boats will trek to the national championships on Aug. 10-12 on Pickwick Lake in Tennessee.
Martin said most of the team has fished Pickwick Lake before, but August provides an entirely different environment than when LSUS anglers launched onto Pickwick Lake in the fall.
“The time of year and temperatures are the biggest factor,” said Martin, whose nickname ‘Brother’ originated with his sister and has stuck as his primary name his entire life. “It’s hard to prepare without being over there to practice, but we’ll bring our summertime baits and practice more deepwater fishing.
“It means a lot to fish for LSUS because this team has worked so hard.”
There are no divisions in college fishing, and LSUS is punching significantly above its weight class. LSUS is one of four “small” public schools in the Top 25 with 4,000 students or less on campus.
There are a few “big boys” like No. 2 Auburn and No. 22 Tennessee, but many of the top teams are private colleges, like No. 24 East Texas Baptist.
Others are medium-sized public universities like North Alabama and Murray State (Ky.) that are near the epicenter of college bass fishing events in the Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama corridor. Champion Montevallo is a public liberal arts college in Alabama with about 2,000 students.
“Some of these programs at small private schools have anywhere from $100,000 to $300,000 to travel to different tournaments,” Johnson said. “The more tournaments you fish, the more points you can score.
“We’re not going to be able to fish in 18 to 20 tournaments a year, but we thought the top 15 nationally was a reasonable goal given what our finances allow. We do have support from the local business community, and our goal is to continue to grow that.”
Along with growing community support, the popularity of high school fishing has made the local recruiting ground more fertile.
The LHSAA championships featured 66 boats with the majority of top finishers from the northern half of the state.
“Most anglers have been fishing since elementary school, but now they are focusing on bass fishing with the high school competition,” said Thompson, whose team has a heavy northwest Louisiana flavor. “It’s creating a recruiting field in which I don’t have to reach out to other parts of the country to find great anglers.”
And it’s not just a sport for males.
Men and women are eligible to compete, and the LSUS tandem of Marlee Churchman and Ty Gentry won the Major League Fishing Southern this past November on Lake O’ the Pines.
“If you put the time in, the fish don’t care what gender you are,” Thompson said. “This isn’t a strength or physique sport – it’s a knowledge-based dedication to the sport.
“It’s not an easy road for females because you might have to deal with some obnoxious guys, but I can tell you that Marlee is a respected member of this team. She does everything the guys do like drive the truck and pulls her weight in every way. As a daddy of girls, I support any co-ed opportunity for young ladies to push their way in.”