Michael Shughart (left) and Branden Newcome show off their haul at Chautauqua Lake, New York in July, 2017.
By VINCENT POWELL
MORGANTOWN — Fishing is a pastime enjoyed by many throughout the state of West Virginia. It clears the head and can even help someone deal with day-to-day stresses. Here at West Virginia University, the Club Fishing Team, ranked second in the country, has taken it to a whole new level.
This year, four members of the team, Nolan Minor, Casey Lanier, Branden Newcome and Michael Shughart will be representing WVU at the Fishing League Worldwide (FLW) National Championships on the Red River in Shreveport, Louisiana.
For the four fishermen, the journey began a few months ago at their respective tournaments. Operating in teams, Minor and Lanier took seventh place at Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia, while Newcome and Shughart took the last qualifying position placing 10th at Chautauqua Lake, New York.
While all four admitted that fishing has been a lifelong passion, each said that competitive bass fishing is a relatively new skill.
Going into their second ever tournament, Minor and Lanier had a tough start. The first bass caught just barely met the minimum weight limit, and Lanier ultimately confessed that his first catch wasn’t even a bass.
Despite a poor start, the pair still managed to finish strong reeling in five fish at a weight of 14-pounds and 12-ounces.
Preparing for the national championships, the duo plans to practice as much as they can with the resources that they have. The FLW allows competitors to arrive early and practice on-site before a tournament. Since the event takes months of training, getting ready can’t all be done on location.
“You try to fish something that has similar characteristics to the lake or river that you’re going to,” said Minor. “You prepare as much as you can, but really, you don’t know until you get there and start practicing.”
Since the climate is drastically different down south, the bass have different schedules and behave differently than bass here in West Virginia. The team stressed that research would be a key factor in their success.
Minor and Lanier had also qualified by wildcard for the 2017 B.A.S.S. Bassmaster National Championships at Lake Bemidji, Minnesota where the team placed in the top half of the competition. The tournament took place just before the start of the fall semester.
Casey Lanier (left) and Nolan Minor proudly display the fish that landed them a spot in the national tournament. (Photo courtesy of Fishing League Worldwide)
As for the duo of Newcome and Shughart, the qualifying road to the FLW National Championship was slightly different.
A year ago, the pair had placed 44th and, according to Newcome, changed their attitude to jump 34 places in order to snag 10th.
“I got beat a lot my freshman year. We got beat bad,” Newcome explained. “I knew something was going to change.”
Newcome and Shughart came back determined to qualify. Traveling to Chatauqua Lake one week before the tournament, Newcome’s drive to win was his obsession. Newcome admitted that he spent 60 hours on the lake before Shughart joined him just two days before the competition.
In an activity like collegiate fishing, winning depends on if the fish want to come out and play. Even if they don’t, a skilled angler will go to where the fish hide.
Newcome and Shughart were released to the water early in the lottery-style drawing, putting them on the lake before most everyone else. From their release, they got right to work setting out for an area where a previous WVU qualifying team made their name.
However, in the first two hours of the tournament, Newcome’s secret spot wasn’t revealing much to the team.
“We were sitting in the same spot for an hour and a half and don’t get a bite,” Newcome said. “I’ve done this before and these fish are just temperamental.”
While Newcome was slightly bothered, Shughart felt the exact opposite.
“It wasn’t too bad,” Shughart said. “We knew from pre-fishing he’d been catching them when the sun finally came out and we were right on the docks. That’s when the fishing started to pick up.”
Shughart was right. As the sun rose, so did the team’s performance. Right on cue, Newcome caught a four-pound bass which propelled the team through the rest of the day. While it was a rollercoaster during the allotted eight hours, the team had to come back to shore at 3 p.m.
Since Newcome and Shughart were among the first to return and first weighed, waiting through the rest of the competitions’ scores meant that they would be pushed back only by those who did better.
Although there was a moment of doubt, specifically in the final moments, the pair was able to qualify for nationals.
“I didn’t really know how to act. It’s something you don’t experience that often,” said Shughart. “There’s people that college fish their whole four years and don’t qualify once, so to be able to do it once is kind of an amazing experience.”
For the kind of victory that all four qualifiers experienced, the atmosphere of the club in which they belong can be considered a victory in itself.
“Oh it’s awesome,” said Newcome, who acts as the current club president. “We are so laid back and everybody is friends with each other. . .We hang out on the weekends, we fish together, our meetings are together, we go to class together. It’s just a giant group of friends.”
Shughart explained that the club consists of a variety of majors and the club shares a common interest with fishing. He explained that even he joined the club to make friends and get to know people by fishing with them.
“The camaraderie is a very high component but the guys you meet and people you meet while you travel, it’s extraordinary.” Lanier said.
Lanier and Minor explained they have met collegiate fisherman from states like Alabama, Tennessee and Indiana in addition to others all over the country.
The WVU Club Fishing Team meets Thursdays at 7 p.m. in Percival Hall 308 and all are welcome to attend. The due of $20 is a one-time fee that will cover membership. For questions or more details, follow the team on Facebook @WVUFishingTeam. For those wanting to make a donation, please contact the WVU Foundation for more information.
On and off the water, the team feels confident about competing in the 2018 national championships and it's hopeful about the future of the program. While the tournament might be taking place in Louisiana, the fishing team’s season certainly isn’t heading south.