College campuses have long been training grounds for athletes looking to hone their skills in preparation for the professional ranks. Nearly all major sports feature established collegiate competition that encourages development of the skills necessary to compete professionally. The explosive growth of college fishing in recent years has made it possible for tournament bass fishermen to gain the same level of experience, recognition and media exposure necessary to make a start at going pro. This season marks the first year that two college fishing alumni are graduating to the Bassmaster Elite Series and FLW Tour. Zach Caudle of LSU-Shreveport and Brandon Card of the University of Kentucky both had stellar careers at the collegiate level before qualifying for the two biggest professional bass fishing trails.
When asked how college fishing has prepared them to turn pro, both anglers stressed that college fishing is what really gave them the push to learn new lakes, travel and be prepared for a career as a tournament bass fisherman. Brandon Card went on to explain the high level of competition at the college level. “I had fished several local and BFL level events in my region before competing at the college level, and when I first started fishing the college events, I was blown away at the level of competition.”
In addition to the quality and seriousness of competition at the college level, the overall experience is something that has catapulted both of these young fishermen to the top. Brandon Card states, “Before college fishing, I would just fish in my home region and never really venture out to learn new things. College fishing allowed me to travel, learn new lakes and techniques. We traveled all over the country which forced us to learn a new body of water in a short amount of time, just like the pros do.” With the support of organizations like FLW Outdoors, Bassmaster, the National Guard, Boat U.S. and others; college angler are often granted travel stipends and other necessities that allow them to compete in different regions while still focusing on their studies in the classroom. Caudle agreed with that statement by saying how grateful he was to find the support of the sponsors and promoters of college fishing. “Without them there is no way I would be where I am today,” Caudle acknowledges.
Learning the Business Side of Fishing
In talking to both of these young fishermen, it was apparent that they learned about much more than tournament fishing during their years in college. The business side of fishing is something that they have learned quickly as they both realize the importance of having sponsor support to fish at the top level. Brandon Card, a graduate of the University of Kentucky with a Bachelor’s Degree in Landscape Architecture has been working with an established agent to professional anglers, J.D. Blackburn of Pro Fishing Management. With the help of Blackburn, Card has had a busy off-season and has signed sponsorship agreements with Empire Boat Covers, Pinnacle Rods and Reels, Jethro Baits, Taylor Man’s Custom Lures, Onyx and Berkley so far. Caudle, a graduate of the Business Management School at LSU-Shreveport has also had a busy offseason, signing with Ranger, Mercury, MotorGuide, Lowrance, Power Pole, MHX Rod Blanks, Worm Hole Custom Rods, Damiki, Pizz Customs, Social Vision and a major sponsorship with a non-endemic company: East Texas Urology Specialists. With a long list of sponsors for both anglers, it is apparent that they understand the business side of fishing is just as important as how well they do competing in tournaments. Zach Caudle believes that his training in the classroom was as valuable, if not more, than what he learned on the water. “I think the new generation understands that it is important to both sell yourself as well as to sell products,” according to Caudle.
Now that they will be fishing as professionals for the first time in 2012, it would seem natural for these two to be nervous about their first tournaments. However, both seem confident and ready to fish. Caudle says “I know that first tournament, I’ll be in the water looking around at all of my heroes and thinking of what they have accomplished in their careers, but at the same time I have to realize they were in the exact situation in their first tournament.” The quiet confidence of both anglers is a result of years of planning and preparation, coupled with success at the college fishing level. Brandon Card has already fished against many Elite Series anglers as he qualified for the Elites via the Bassmaster Southern Opens that often feature a long list of Elite Series pros. He stated simply, “I’m not nervous, I don’t think about who I am fishing against. I am just competing with the fish. The only thing that has me a little nervous is preparing to fish new lakes when many of these guys have been fishing them for years.”
What advice do these rising stars have for the next generation of college anglers? They both remained encouraging of those following in their footsteps. Brandon Card again explained the importance of fishing as much as you can on new bodies of water. “College fishing is a great chance to travel, learn new lakes and just get out of your comfort zone. If it wasn’t for college fishing, I would have stayed in Kentucky and probably never went for it.” Caudle added, “It’s not easy but if you are completely dedicated to your dream you can do it.”
Zach Caudle and Brandon Card are part of a new generation of bass fishermen that are college educated, business savvy and hungry to compete with the best. With their years of college fishing experience and desire to chase a dream, they have qualified for two of the most prestigious tournament trails in the country. The entire sport of college fishing and the industry as a whole will be watching these two as they break new ground in what should eventually be a long list of upcoming anglers who chose to go to college to go fishing.