ALEXANDRIA, Va. – The past year has seen a dramatic increase in university-sanctioned fishing programs, growing from two dozen colleges with formal fishing programs one year ago to now more than 100 schools planning to participate in the 2007 national fishing championship, according to a release from the Collegiate Bass Fishing News last week.
The Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, formed to promote the benefits of sport fishing participation, is one of the groups targeting the college-student demographic.
"When we saw the interest leading up to last year's first-ever National Collegiate Bass Fishing Championship, we believed it to be a good fit for our long-term strategic growth initiatives," said Jim Stewart, RBFF manager of education and outreach. "These college students are proving that fishing is cool and judging from the growth that we're seeing, they are spreading the word."
Stewart is referring to his organization's involvement in the BoatU.S. National Collegiate Bass Fishing Championship. The NCBFC is a first-of-its-kind effort to make bass fishing a fully recognized college sport with conference play, an annual season-ending championship and national television coverage on the Fox College Sports network.
At the debut championship held last Fall on Lake Lewisville near Dallas, 41 teams represented 24 schools in the competition. Conferences like the Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10 and SEC had a prominent presence. North Carolina State won the premiere and the $12,000 first place prize.
But to the RBFF, more important was its Anglers' Legacy competition. Anglers' Legacy is a "share the passion" RBFF program that asks all people who love to fish to give back what they've been given and introduce someone to fishing. Designed as a membership recruitment program, the Anglers' Legacy collegiate competition offers cash awards to the top 10 school-sanctioned fishing clubs with the most growth based on the highest percentage of new members who have not fished in at least the two previous years.
Winning the top Anglers' Legacy prize of $2,500 in 2006 was North Carolina State, and the $1,750 second place prize went to Eastern Kentucky University. The prize monies must be used for purchasing club equipment and gear.
"Our contest is designed to increase interest and excitement among these young people and reward them for their recruiting efforts, creating new anglers and club members," Stewart said. "The clubs are embracing the challenge, and the student-athletes are excellent ambassadors and recruiters for fishing."
Fishing's placement as a student activity varies from university to university, but to date, most are falling either under intramural or recreation departments. To the college anglers, they really don't care.
"Unlike many in our club, I've only been fishing a couple of years and it's awesome; I love it. I'm learning everything I can," said Joel Blackburn, a junior at the University of Arkansas, one of the latest schools to add a fishing program. "I’ve got my own tackle now, and a fishing boat will be one of my first investments after I graduate and get a job."
The Arkansas fishing program started in January and already has 28 members, appearing to be one of the front-runners in the club growth contest. Blackburn said his school will certainly participate in the 2007 Anglers' Legacy competition because winning would help them buy equipment they want for hosting tournaments and getting even more
college students involved.
Webber International University, Babson Park, Fla., is presently the largest collegiate fishing program with more than 90 members.
The Anglers' Legacy contest is based on specific criteria and a formal application process. Proof of new fishing license holders is the primary measurement. Fishing license sales are critical to the sport, as approximately 85 percent of all state game and fish departments' funding comes from them. Anglers are also accessed a special 10 percent excise tax on certain fishing tackle items that goes into a federal fund, which is then apportioned to each state for sport fish restoration efforts. As a result, anglers are the biggest contributors to the nation's fishery resources, and college anglers are the next generation of gatekeepers.
"Our camera crews have seen first-hand just how much the support of RBFF and Anglers' Legacy means to the college kids who received new fishing gear to pursue their passion," said Wade Middleton, on-camera host of the NCBFC television series. "More importantly, that support isn't just a one-time opportunity. It, along with the enthusiasm, continues to grow."
More than 100 two-person collegiate teams are expected to participate in the 2007 NCBFC, returning to Lake Lewisville, Sept. 27-29, with daily weigh-ins to be held at Sneaky Pete's Marina.
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