By Joe Fleischauer
College fishing clubs have come a long way in the last few years, with the rise of collegiate tournaments such as FLW College Fishing, ESPN Smashmouth, College Bass, and Boat US, but none of this would be possible without the participation of so many students across the nation. The Saluki Bassers, Southern Illinois University – Carbondale’s (SIUC) bass fishing club, has gone from being one of the smallest registered student organizations at SIUC, to one of its largest, with almost 30 members from seniors to freshman who all hold equal share. SIUC has what is unarguably the biggest bass fishing club in Illinois and is ranked the 13th best college to attend for bass fishing in the country, according to FLW Outdoors Magazine.
In the beginning, it was just a small group of guys who got together and talked about the local tournament fishing scene. It was an uphill battle for the Bassers; trying to get new members and running meetings smoothly were two obstacles that took a lot of work.
“When I first got in the club there were probably six of us,” said Ben DeBlois, an original member. “We were just a bunch of guys who like to fish tournaments, but now it’s so much bigger. There are a bunch of people in the club now that don’t know as much, and that’s good because now we’re teaching people how to fish.”
Since the club was so small back then, organization wasn’t as important as it has become in the past two years. With the large influx of members, running meetings would be hard if there wasn’t any structure. When Richard Dunham joined the club, in August 2006, two years after the club had first started, there were still only a handful of guys in the club. The only way to spread the word about the fishing club was to attend the annual club fair at the beginning of every school year and by talking to the people who he and other members saw fishing the campus lake where weekly paper tournaments and meetings are held.
“As far as organization goes, that all fell into place over time,” DeBlois said. “When we went from six people at meetings to 20, it had to be more organized.”
“Before I got involved in college fishing, I always had my mind on one technique,” DiNovo said. “Now I’m able to look at the weather patterns and the current conditions, and I have more of an open mind about what the fish are going to be eating.”
The club is not just for people who want to fish tournaments; it serves as an outlet for anyone who wants to learn more about bass fishing, which pushes the sport to new levels. For these guys, it’s all about sharing the love of bass fishing.
In the next few years, there will be a lot resting on the shoulders of the next generation of Bassers, because they are going to be the ones running the show. By going to the weekly meetings, participating in the club tournaments and qualifiers, and in many instances, fishing from the back of the boat, they are learning how to run the show. The things they learn on the water really sink in because they don’t all have the opportunity to go out to the bigger lakes and fish whenever they want. Having co-angler club tournaments creates a close-knit atmosphere in the club because it gives everyone involved a chance to get to know each other on the water. At the beginning of every school year there will be some awkwardness for the newer members, but by the end of the year, they are joking around with the oldest members like they have been there just as long.
When those six guys got together and decided to call themselves a fishing club, they could not imagine that it would be taken this far. Many of the younger members and a few of the transfer students chose to come to SIUC just because there was a nationally ranked fishing club. These guys aren’t just looking to get degrees in business, education, English, or aviation; they are looking to get degrees in the sport they all love—bass fishing.
“If I could sum it up in two words, it would be light years,” Bryan Partak said, summing up the progress the club has made since he joined in 2008. Even though the club has made leaps and bounds in the past couple years, there is still a lot of work to do, and it is up to the future Saluki Bassers to push the club to new heights.