Humble beginnings to the biggest stage

NEW ORLEANS, La. — Way back in 2005, I fished in the very first "Smash-Mouth" College Bass event, a small, made-for-television event in Monticello, Ark.

This year, the winner of the College Bass National Championship will get a berth in the 2012 Bassmaster Classic. We started with just six teams and now there are well over 100 organized schools from California to North Carolina. Back in that first Championship, we didn't have a clue how far things would go.

All of us were just worried about making sure our boats would start each morning. That's still one of the things I love about College Bass competitions. Sure, some guys have full-size bass boats tricked out with the latest accessories. But I still reserve a special place in my heart for the smaller aluminum boats, or the fiberglass boats that are so old, they sort of belch their way up to the starting line each morning.
Those things are what remind us that this is a sport fueled by the anglers, and college anglers don't always have money for an expensive bass boat or high-powered electronics. We just did whatever we had to in order to pursue our dreams and our love of fishing.

Competition will be even fiercer this year as college anglers fight to be the first college angler in the Classic, a stage people dream about crossing from the time they pick up their first Bassmaster Magazine. But even before all that drama unfolds, a fun event will showcase two SEC powerhouses here at the 2011 Bassmaster Classic in New Orleans.

On Sunday, February 20, three two-man teams from LSU and Alabama will square off in the Bassmaster College Classic on nearby Lake Verret. LSU is obviously the home-town favorite, while defending-champion Alabama earned a berth after winning the first Classic event last year against Auburn.

Before the Top 25 anglers take the stage to determine a Bassmaster Classic champion, these college anglers will get to weigh their catch in front of the raucous crowd gathered at the arena. It's just this kind of event that captures the beauty of College Bass competition. It's all about the rivalry and LSU-Alabama has that SEC grittiness, especially after the recent football season.

It will be my responsibility for getting the fans of both these teams fired up to support their school colors. I've hung up my college fishing boots as now-host of the College Bass events, which in some ways has been even more rewarding. Meeting all the different college anglers and hearing the stories of their journey to this place is what fishing is all about.

Another chapter in that journey is about to be written. Will it be the favored LSU team or the powerhouse Alabama anglers that hoist the trophy? Tune in Sunday to find out.



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