Alex Robbins’ fishing career was just beginning to hit its stride.
By finishing seventh in the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Western Regional on Lake Mead in April, the 23-year-old angler from Humboldt State University qualified to fish the series’ national championship event scheduled for Green River Lake in July.
But tragically, a boating accident claimed his life late last week.
Robbins’ father, Jamie, said Alex was tuna fishing off the coast of Catalina Island in California with his older brother, Brent Willard, when their 13-foot Boston Whaler hit a wave awkwardly. Both anglers were thrown from the boat, and Alex, who was born with a debilitating spinal condition known as Escobar Syndrome, drowned.
“Alex’s ambition all through college was to make the nationals, but he could never quite seem to qualify,” Jamie said. “This year, he finally qualified for nationals with his partner Rudy Directo, who has become like another son to us.
“It’s something we were all really looking forward to.”
A life unexpected
Alex, who was also qualified for the college nationals on the FLW Tour, had to prove the medical world wrong en route to his greatest achievements.
When Alex was born with Escobar Syndrome, doctors told Jamie and his wife, Donna, that their child may not be able to walk as an adult. Despite three corrective surgeries, the condition led to a 90-degree curvature in Alex’s spine and contractures that prevented him from completely straightening his arms and legs.
“It’s like being born with scoliosis that kind of progresses through your life,” Jamie said. “We were told to enjoy his infant years, because he probably wouldn’t walk when he was in his teens.
“They kept trying to tell us to keep him off the monkey bars at school and really watch him and protect him.”
But Jamie said there was no holding Alex back. He ran and roughhoused as a child and even played baseball — until he decided for himself it was time to stop.
“Alex was always kind of wise beyond his years,” Jamie said. “He kind of sat us down and said ‘I just don’t think I can play baseball competitively anymore.’ That’s when his interests began to shift.”
Birth of a fisherman
At age 13, Alex entered a fishing tournament out of Russos Marina in the Sacramento Delta that paired pro anglers with teens. Jamie said he fished the tournament every year he was eligible from that point and then transitioned to college fishing.
He eventually became the president of the Humboldt State University bass fishing team, bringing new sponsors on board to breathe life into the struggling club.
“His older brother played football in college and his sister (Melissa Willard) played soccer,” Jamie said. “We always said, ‘Alex, this is your sport, so we’re gonna support you for that and go to your tournaments and help you figure this thing out.’”
Alex, who was also an accomplished hunter, earned his undergraduate degree in forestry from Humboldt State two weeks ago. He already owned his own clothing company known as “Pigs Only” that offered fishing shirts for male and female anglers.
He seemed to have a lasting effect on everyone he met.
“Alex was always such a happy guy, just a good guy to be around,” said Hank Weldon, senior manager of the college, high school and youth fishing series at B.A.S.S. “It’s obviously awful to see this kind of thing happen to anyone. But it’s especially tough with someone who was so full of life like Alex was.”
There has been an outpouring of condolences on Robbins’ Facebook page (facebook.com/alex.robbins.98) from family, friends and even people Alex never met. A memorial account has also been set up at www.gofundme.com/27tyygs, with more than $27,000 having already been donated.
Jamie said the family might eventually use the money to start a memorial foundation for Alex, who he described as a “kid who was 4-foot-8 in stature with a 6-foot-2 personality.”
He said Alex was a “man of faith,” and faith is helping the family cope with the loss.
“What Brent did to try and save Alex when the accident happened was absolutely heroic,” Jamie said. “He’s taking this really hard, as you might expect. But I told him we’re not going to fear the water, and we’re not going to stop fishing.
“We’re going to go out and fish — and every time we catch one, we’re going to hold it up to the sky for Alex.”