The college factor

Hidden behind some of the names on the Day 1 leaderboard is an interesting scenario in play at the Bassmaster Central Open underway on the Arkansas River. 

Six of the Top 20 anglers got here through the Bassmaster College ranks, both current and graduates. I was tipped off about this unique angle by an alumnus of the program, Ronnie Moore, the Bassmaster LIVE analyst who competed for East Carolina University Bass Fishing Team.

Here is the breakdown.

  • Dakota Ebare (second; Tarleton State)
  • John Garrett (T-4th; Bethel University)
  • Caleb Gibson (6th; Northeastern State University)
  • KJ Queen (14th; Bethel University)
  • Cody Huff (T-18th; Bethel University)

And beyond the names are some interesting facts. Gibson is from nearby Tahlequah, which is playing in his favor considering the tough conditions. Garrett (2016) and Huff (2019), are College Bracket winners who represented the College Series in the Opens each year after earning the title. Queen, Garret and Huff are fishing all eight of the Opens this season. Queen (and classmate Dax Ewart) are defending Bassmaster College Series Team of the Year winners, which is equivalent to the Bassmster Angler of the Year title in the pro ranks. 

Why are the standings so loaded with Bethel University alumnae? The answer is because the bass fishing program is one of the nation’s best. In 2010, Bethel became the first college to offer academic scholarships for its college team. Much of the credit goes to Garry Mason, the team coach, who convinced the school’s athletic director that bass fishing was a legit team sport. That put the small-town university in west Tennessee in the spotlight. Other schools followed Bethel’s lead, and today those programs are flourishing throughout the country. 

Bethel’s trophy mantel is loaded. The school has won multiple national championships, and many more state and regional titles. What is worthy of note is despite all of its success, none of the alumnae have qualified for their ultimate goal: the Bassmaster Elite Series. For former Bethel and other schools represented in the Opens, that might be about to change.