UNC Charlotte students Andrew Helms and Jake Whitaker won the 2015 Bassmaster College Classic Tournament at Lake Keowee, S.C., Feb. 22.
This win follows their national championship title in August 2014. UNCC is ranked fourth in the nation’s top 25 college bass fishing teams.
Helms, a junior, majoring in marketing at UNCC is from Monroe. He started his fishing career with his father and then competing at the high school level. He joined the college club in 2013 and teamed up with Whitaker when Whitaker’s partner graduated.
Whitaker, a civil engineering major from Asheville, is a senior who will graduate this spring. He was his father’s tournament partner since the ninth grade.
After reading an article about college fishing in the FLW Magazine several years ago, he knew a college with a team was for him. He chose UNCC over N.C. State because it was closer to home.
Whitaker has aspirations to be a professional bass angler.
The College Classic, an invitational event for the top eight schools, was held in conjunction with the Bassmaster Classic at Lake Hartwell on the South Carolina-Georgia border. The college teams had their weigh-in before the pros weigh-in with thousands of fans in the audience.
The weigh-in was held at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, S.C., and carried live on Bassmaster.com.
This event was for recognition and a huge trophy. No prize money was awarded. The college anglers attended the dinner of champions, met some of their favorite pros and had exposure to future sponsors.
“Walking across the big stage is something you will never forget and you definitely want to go back,” Helms said.
“It is just something awesome to take in, the biggest stage and the biggest event in bass fishing,” Whitaker said. “To be recognized and your school recognized out there is really great.”
UNCC beat Clemson University by just 4 ounces with their bag of five bass weighing 9 pounds, 6 ounces.
The team had two favorite baits, the Megabass Vision 110 and a Shakyhead jig.
In 2006, a group of guys met and called themselves the UNC Charlotte Bass Fishing Club, according to Daniel Moss, vice president of the club. The group is now an official college club eligible for support and aid by UNCC.
A recent UNCC graduates Shane Lehew and his partner Eric Self really put the club on the map two years ago. Lehew is pursuing a career as a pro bass angler and his family makes a version of the “Alabama Rig” fishing lures.
The club has 38 members. They meet to exchange ideas and fish against each other for practice.
Teams usually evolve and the ones that compete are chosen by availability. Most members use their family bass boats.
Just six or seven years ago about 50 colleges had fishing teams. Now more 600 colleges and universities have clubs, and more than 5,000 students are registered with Bassmaster or FLW. College teams may compete in both programs. A few colleges have offered scholarships and several companies in the fishing industry are offering summer internships.
Up next is the Carhartt Bassmaster Southern Regional, which will be held at Lake Norman March 26-28.
The check-in and official meeting will be held at Gibbs Racing in Huntersville on March 25. The weigh-ins will be at Blythe Landing in Cornelius.
UNCC will have six to eight teams on the water.
Lou Mintzer is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Lou? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.