College Series shines at next level

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Ronnie Moore

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- The Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens series is a melting pot of anglers. With backgrounds of all sorts, anglers from across the nation of all ages and with skill sets honed from differing fisheries join together in this level of competition.

Anglers compete in the Opens for many different reasons. Some want to measure themselves on a national level. Some are pursuing a career on the Bassmaster Elite Series. Some want to make their childhood dreams come true by making the Bassmaster Classic.

For five college anglers, the dream of competing on the highest level is becoming a reality. Only 28 professional anglers punched their ticket to the Bass Pro Shops Opens Championship at Table Rock Lake after a hard-fought 2018 regular season.

Garrett Paquette, Mike Huff, Drew Cook, Patrick Walters and Tyler Rivet represent the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series. Each one is less than three years removed from college competition, which they say helped prime them for the Opens level.

“The diverse fisheries and multi-day tournaments are clearly training these anglers at a much younger age,” College Bass Tournament Director Hank Weldon said. “It’s refreshing to see these anglers make a name for themselves. Some could be stars and household names in the near future at the highest level.”

The Bassmaster tournament hierarchy rivals something like baseball. If this were baseball, it would be the transition from college ball to the minor leagues. Prove yourself in college and get drafted to the minors. The Opens are hardly the minor leagues, though, with local sticks from particular fisheries, Elite Series pros and other professionals mixed in. The field becomes a stacked group of highly skilled fishermen. The best at the semi-pro level make their jump to the Elite Series and history is made.

Paquette, a Michigan angler, started fishing team tournaments at Schoolcraft College a few years ago and is fishing in his second year of the Bassmaster Opens. He sits third in the Eastern Opens point race coming into the championship.

“Before college fishing, I was just a one-day tournament angler around the house,” Paquette said. “When you get to the college ranks, you think it may be easier because you’ve competed against seasoned anglers back home your whole life. It’s not. You realize there are so many talented anglers your age that you will have to beat the rest of your life at each level.”

Mike Huff echoed that sentiment. He even took it one step further, saying he had great competition at his school between him and his college partner at Georgetown College in Kentucky, former Elite angler John Hunter.

“Seeing John Hunter qualify a few years ago gave me all the confidence in the world to pursue my dreams as well,” Huff said. “We worked well as a team when we competed together, so that friendship helped me see the future possibilities that were ahead if I wanted to give it a shot.”

Huff stands sixth in the Eastern Division points.

After competing for numerous years at Florida State, Drew Cook decided it was time to try his hand at the Bassmaster Opens. In his first year, he didn’t just dip his toes in the water; he jumped right in. Competing in both the divisions, he notched a Top 20 in both point races, currently sitting seventh in the Eastern Opens and 20th in the Centrals.

“College instilled the ability to tell when you should stay with your pattern or bail and try something new,” Cook said. “Most of the tournaments this year I trusted my instincts to just go make it happen elsewhere.”

Patrick Walters triple-qualified for the Opens Championship by way of both points races and a win at the Red River this year. During his college time at the University of South Carolina, Walters won a College Bass regional on Winyah Bay in his final season and also was a National Champion in FLW’s college league.

“Fishing all over the country in college taught me how to practice,” Walters said. “Back home you tend to fish history when it gets tough. But in college and the Opens you better keep an open mind and simplify your approach if you want to stay on top of what the fish are doing.”

Tyler Rivet balanced the Opens and the College Series over the last two years as he finished up schooling. Rivet never missed a National Championship in his five college seasons with B.A.S.S. and also qualified for the Opens Championship via the Central Opens this year.

“I realized looking back at my college fishing experience that I competed against some impressive anglers, or hammers to put it plainly,” Rivet said. “You can’t hang your hat on what you did in college, but achieving milestones there certainly means something these days.”