CHENEY, Wash. — For many tournament anglers, an hour commute at 4:30 a.m. is a necessary and reasonable sacrifice to go fishing on their local lake. Then there’s a group of anglers that might drive a few hours for a tournament once or twice a year. Even a mid-level angler fishing a Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Open hardly ever has to make a two-day commute.
But for Nick Barr and Jarred Walker of Eastern Washington University, long hauls are a recurring theme. And after the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Classic Bracket this month, they likely will have covered more ground in a tournament season than anyone other than our Elite Series anglers.
“Living out here on the West Coast, everything is so much farther apart for us,” said Barr, a senior in business marketing. “Your travel to an average tournament around here is at least a four-hour drive. And then to go do the college tournaments in California, we’re used to driving 16 to 17 hours straight just to go fish a one day tournament.”
In order not to miss any more classtime than necessary, that 16 or 17 hours that EWU’s Barr and Walker spend on the road is usually time that other anglers are getting to put in on the water.
For their shot at the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship on Chatuge Reservoir in Georgia, Barr made a solo haul with his bass boat 42 hours cross-country, the majority of which was nonstop. That’s two more days coming and two more days going home than the majority of the field. And yet they fought their way to the first day lead and a fourth-place finish overall, qualifying them for the College Classic Bracket.
“Everyone was complaining about a six-hour drive for that National Championship and I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me right?,'” said Barr.
The playing field is leveled a bit for their next step. Although EWU is still the farthest team from Muskegon, Mich., the site of the College Classic Bracket, it will only equate to a couple more hours instead of a 30-hour drive as all eight participants in the bracket will be flying to the event.
Walker is ready to get that short trip out of the way. Working 70-hour weeks this summer as an intern, he’s found it hard to concentrate on the task at hand and easy to drift off into daydreams of hook sets and glory.
“I’ll be at work operating heavy equipment and find my mind wandering and then I’ll get a chill,” said Walker. “You don’t get that feeling often in life. It’s really rare to have an opportunity like this to make the Bassmaster Classic, and the tournament can’t come soon enough.”
Wrapping up his internship next week, Walker is as ready as ever to get the competition underway. College bass fishing has resurrected his competitiveness by giving him an outlet that he thought he might never find. After suffering an injury playing college football, he thought his days of intercollegiate competition had retired with his cleats and pads. Now through a rod and reel, he has found that fire again.
“I played football for Washington State and then transferred to Eastern Washington State where I got hurt,” Walker said. “College bass fishing really opened a lot of things for me. I’ve been competitive my whole life in sports, and when that was taken away and all I had was school, I was driving myself nuts. I would do my schoolwork and then go work out and after that I was like, ‘What do I do now?’”
Walker had always fished but never really considered collegiate bass fishing. A football teammate and mutual friend of Barr’s recommended that Walker meet up with Barr because he fished all the time.
After the initial connection was made, it was only a matter of time before Walker and Barr found themselves standing shoulder to shoulder fishing in several tournaments with the chemistry of old friends. And it was then that Walker realized he had a new way to compete.
Now Walker and Barr each have a chance to reach the pinnacle of the sport. A berth into the Bassmaster Classic is within reach.
The only thing that stands between them and their Classic berth are six other anglers and each other, as only one angler will qualify.
For now, I’ll go ahead and award them respectively for the longest and strongest drive.