Catchin’ some bass

There’s a sports team on campus you probably haven’t heard of.

If you happen to be tooling around the Ozarks this weekend, you might run into a couple of them sporting black and yellow at Table Rock Lake. Next weekend, you can spot a whole school of them on the waters of Lake Texoma, outside of Tulsa.

They’re members of the Shocker Bass Team, a student organization of dedicated anglers who made fishing a sport at Wichita State.

John Wright and his roommate, Josh Schmidt, started the club during their freshman year after seeing college fishing on ESPN. They started the team with five members. This year, they’re up to 14.

Wright, a senior pre-med student, said he was never into fishing before Schmidt, a senior studying environmental biology, got him hooked.

“Fishing is an addiction,” Wright said. “I work not to pay for school, but to fund my habit. It is all about being out in nature and enjoying the tranquility. Nothing beats getting out on the lake early in the morning before anyone else is. It gets me away from everything in the world.”

Wright has a lot to get away from considering the rigors of his studies. He also works outside school at AutoCraft Collision Repair and in an emergency room at Via Christi.

“You’re squished between trying to take time off work and time off school,” he said. “A lot of us end up taking our homework along with us to do in the truck or while we’re at the hotel. It’s a fine line to not only afford to go to tournaments, but to have time off to do it.”

The Shocker Bass Team does more than sneak off to go fishing on the weekends, however. They’ve been involved in a number of community events in the past few years, including manning the Wichita Boat Show and connecting with younger anglers to help start high school fishing teams, as well.

Ashlin Bohl, a freshman studying marketing, is a new member who said she’s excited about the club and the challenges it will offer. Among all the guys on the team, Bohl stands out, not only because she’s a woman.

“The guys laugh at me because every time we go fishing, I roll up, and everything I have is pink,” she said. “My pole, backpack, tackle box and everything in my tackle box. It works for me, though. I know what the fish like: pink.”

Bohl grew up fishing with her brother in ponds outside her hometown of Ulysses, and will compete in her first tournament with the WSU team at the end of the month.

“I think if you’re a person that enjoys fishing and wants to take it to another level, joining the Bass Team is the thing to do,” Bohl said. “The guys on the team really know what they’re doing, and I’ve learned so much from them. I hope to take home a trophy, of course, but right now I’m just enjoying the experience of it all.”

Bohl’s attitude, as much as her skill, make her a welcome addition to the team, because bass fishing can be serious business.

Among college tournaments, there are three main national sponsoring organizations: the Fishing League Worldwide, the Association of Collegiate Anglers (affiliated with Cabela’s) and Bass Anglers Sportsman Society. Among those, there are dozens of regional and national competitions the WSU team could potentially compete in every weekend, and still others hosted by colleges nationwide.

The Shocker Bass Team tries to field members for 10 to 20 or more tournaments each year, not including any number of small, local competitions.

Most tournaments are five fish in the boat, Wright said (they have a five fish limit). Tournaments usually last about eight hours. Most happen in just one day, though some are two. National tournaments can stretch out for three or four days.

Part of competitive fishing is pre-fishing a site. This is done a week in advance to get the “lay of the lake,” figuring out where the fish will be, and adjust the team’s strategy. In the past, however, the WSU team has been lucky if they got to do such reconnaissance a day or two in advance.

Locally, members of the Shocker Bass Team have done well in fishing competitions, but on a national level, Wright said he feels like they’re just starting to be contenders. The difference, he said, is funding.

“It helps that Wichita State has recognized us as a sports club,” Wright said. “It’s given us a little money to be able to afford to go to serious tournaments. When we first started, it was kind of a one-and-done deal, because they were so expensive to attend. We could never afford to go down and pre-fish, so it was pretty rough.”

The team also relies heavily on the generosity of local sponsors, who help with cash donations and volunteer personal time for meetings and training. They have a few national sponsors, which provide discounts on the equipment Shocker anglers have to provide for themselves.

The biggest challenge the Shocker Bass Team faces, however, is finding regular access to a boat. Some members of the team have been able to secure loaners, but many of those students are graduating this semester. To continue competing, Wright said, the Shocker Bass Team will need to find a way to acquire its own boat.

Challenges aside, the members expect it to continue on after Wright and Schmidt graduate this semester.

“I think I speak for both John and myself when I say we want to leave behind a legacy at Wichita State,” Schmidt said. “We want a club that can achieve national recognition. Like a lot of people out there, we want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.”