Even though my drive to become a professional angler may sometimes distract me from my studies, I’m always thankful my parents constantly remind me to stay in school and get good grades. Fishing can be a humbling and challenging sport with lots of ups and downs. As young anglers trying to make it in this industry, we need to have a backup plan – just in case “the big stage” doesn’t work out. That’s the beauty of the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series. Young anglers like myself can join a group of like-minded individuals at our university and experience well organized multi-day tournaments on a national scale with low expenses, fishing against some amazing competition.
I’m Trevor Topken, and I’m a senior studying public relations at the University of South Carolina. Growing up in New Jersey, tournament bass fishing and fishing in general were not very popular activities or the “cool” thing to do. I knew I had a passion for the sport, but I didn’t know where I could take it, or if I could even take it anywhere. So, when I heard I could fish competitively at a collegiate level, I immediately knew that’s where I was going next.
Fast forward almost four years and I am incredibly happy with the decision I made.
Last week, I competed in the Bassmaster College Series on Lake Hartwell in Anderson, South Carolina. Currently, all club sports are under a travel ban at our university due to Covid-19, so we fished the tournament dissociated from the University of South Carolina. Lake Hartwell is hardly a two-hour drive from my apartment in Columbia, South Carolina. During my near four years living in South Carolina, I have become somewhat familiar with this 50,000+ acre impoundment on the Savannah River. Coming from up north, I am most comfortable fishing clear water with light line, and those clear water Savannah River spots act somewhat similar to their smallmouth cousins.
During practice, my partner Colton and I were able to figure out two different bites. One was a shallow largemouth pattern; we were getting some bites in dirty water throwing crankbaits and bladed jigs. However, the pattern I was most excited to fish on tournament day was the deep water spots we found. The last day of practice we caught a few really nice spots fishing a shakey head on deep brushpiles – a pretty common technique for Hartwell spots, but one that seemed underutilized by the field that week.
We had some confidence heading into day one of the event. To make a long story short, though, we didn’t catch them at all. Talk about a plan not coming together. Our deep fish wouldn’t bite, and the shallow fish were getting absolutely pounded by the field. We regrouped at our rental house and discussed our mistakes and how to fix them. On day two we went out with nothing to lose, sitting in 225th out of 260. With a similar but different game plan, we again leaned on the deep fish, but with some adjustments to baits and techniques. We were able to bring in a solid limit and move up over 100 places to finish in the middle of the pack.
Carson-Newman University anglers Ben Cully and Hayden Gaddis won the event with a two-day total of 35 pounds, 12 ounces.
Obviously, I wished for a better outcome. Every tournament I fish I want to win; I’m sure that’s true for everyone. But I’ve learned in this sport, through college fishing, that you have to take the good with the bad. I had good expectations for this event. As soon as it was announced this event would be at Hartwell during that week, I knew it could be a special week. By the end of the week, I was reminded why I’m still studying to get my degree. As much as I want to make my dreams a reality, making it in this sport is no easy task, even for a very skilled angler.
I can go on forever about the benefits of the Bassmaster College series – new lakes you can experience, meeting new people, national publicity, amazing memories made, the list goes on. College fishing is hands down the best route to take for a young angler who wants to make the big stage in this sport, but always remember the real reason why you’re going to school. So, yes, listen to your parents, study and get good grades, but fish the Bassmaster College Series while you do.