NEW ALBANY — A year ago, Gavin Lagle and Atom Ward didn’t know each other. Both sophomores at the time at Indiana University Southeast, one in the journalism program and the other in business management, their paths didn’t cross until January when they both went to an informational meeting about a proposed bass fishing club for the campus.
Now, 10 months later, the duo has traveled the country in competitive bass fishing tournaments and are laying the groundwork for future students to do the same — and have found success along the way.
Lagle, of Mitchell, and Ward, of Charlestown, both grew up on the water and playing competitive sports. So when an email was sent out in January looking for those interested in starting a bass fishing club, Lagle, Ward and about 13 other students showed up.
“I was already sold from the first email. I [thought] ‘Let’s take off with this thing, let’s see how far we can get it as fast as we can,’” Ward recalled.
By the second meeting, the group had established bylaws and by the third, Ward and Lagle were elected president and vice-president, respectively.
As a club sport, the group needed to go through Campus Life and the athletic department to be recognized, according to John Glover, athletic director for the university. Being recognized by the athletic department is neither easy nor common, he said.
“We are pretty particular in granting club sport status because then they can use our athletic logos, we give them a spot on the athletic website,” Glover said. “It’s almost a sanctioning of them so they can compete against outside competition and represent the university. That’s kind of a whole other level. They are the group that has moved the quickest through the process than anyone we’ve ever had, at least that I can remember in the last 20 years.”
According to Glover, it’s been at least 15 years since a true club sport has been created on the campus.
As a club sport, the IU Southeast Bass Fishing Club has two facets: campus meetings where any member can come, along with the occasional group fishing trip, and competing.
A GIANT FISH-SHAPED PUZZLE
There’s a lot that goes into competitive bass fishing. And if you ask Lagle, you can “never know enough about it.”
“There’s thousands and thousands of techniques and baits,” he said. “We only use artificial lures ... Whether that be soft plastic lures or hard baits, use a variety of each. You have to take into consideration time of year, time of day.”
“Barometric pressure, the wind,” Ward added.
“Water depth, water temperature,” Lagle chimed in.
Then there’s “the biology of the largemouth bass themselves. You have your seasonal effects and migration patterns and you also have the migration patterns of their forage, the different things crawfish do throughout the year. You have to be able to track some of these different changes and pattern fish on the large bodies of waters that we fish on.”
That’s not all.
“Then you have location,” according to Lagle. “...Up north you have different species of bass you’re targeting, which behave differently.”
Along with location comes the type of lake — natural or a reservoir. In a reservoir, fish act different due to the current, or rather lack of a current, according to Ward.
“It’s a giant puzzle that has all kinds of moving variables and stuff like that,” he said. “You almost have to study the biology of it to be able to find the fish. Then once you find them you have to have the ability to catch them. That’s where bait selection and stuff like that comes in, but sometimes that’s the least important part. You can find small fish just about anywhere, but in order to win you have to have five of the biggest.”
What you do once you find where the big fish are hiding is what leads some teams to victory.
“... Once you get the knowledge and put all the pieces together it’s the physical skill sometimes of just having the cast ability to put your bait exactly where you need it to be at all the right times and have it work it properly,” Lagle said. “A lot of times bass hang out close to logs, boat docks, under hardcover in the water. With boat docks for example, they like to sit right under them so you have to be able to skip your bait right under it and it takes practice. So if that specifically is what those fish are doing and some guys can’t do it but you’re putting your bait right under [the bass] all the time, you’re going to have better odds of catching more fish.”
The duo knows a thing or two about out-fishing the competition — within their first semester as an official club sport, the team qualified for the national state championship.
GOING AGAINST THE BIG ONES
So far, the IU Southeast Bass Fishing Club has competed in Indiana, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Kentucky. At each tournament, two fisherman (a captain and a co-angler) take a boat out for about eight hours. The two can keep up to five fish and, at the end of the tournament, whichever team has the most pounds wins. It’s not always just Lagle and Ward. Other members of the team have competed, too, but the pair did qualify for the national champions at just their second tournament.
“We forged by fire,” Ward said. “We knew the bases going into it we had experience but we jumped in full bore and we had to learn the more advanced stuff as we went because we jumped into the highest level possible… Our learning curve was super quick. We had to figure it out quick and I think we did a decent job.”
At Monroe Lake in Bloomington in June a combination of their skills led them to qualify. Lagle caught a 6-pounder within the first 30 minutes of tournament. Hours later, Ward caught their last two bass in the final hour, using knowledge he obtained the day before when he was “prefishing” at the lake.
The win led them to the Carhartt College Bassmaster National Championship at Lake Tenkiller in Oklahoma in July. They were in the Sooner State for five days for the tournament, competing against more than 100 other teams.
They held eighth place at the end of the first day and at the end of the multi-day tournament they placed 30th despite the weather being the hottest either had ever fished in.
The fact that they made it to the nationals to begin with shows why bass fishing is such a unique sport.
“We are going up against the Alabamas, the Clemsons,” Ward said. “In many club sport facets there’s club sport soccer but then there’s varsity soccer. With bass fishing, the club sport bass fishing is varsity and there’s nothing above it. It’s a club sport because of the way we acquire funding, but in every other sense it’s the varsity program.
Lagle said the same, saying “a community college can go and beat a giant with 30,000, 40,000 students in the country because they have two guys who have a boat and are passionate about bass fishing.”
Passion about fishing is exactly what they hope to culminate at IU Southeast during the rest of their educational career. With Lagle graduating in winter 2019 and Ward just a semester later, the two hope that they can lay the foundation for the club to continue growing, and winning, in their absence.
“We have a long way to go. We just started,” Ward said. “We have to build a solid foundation. We might not see it in our remaining two years but we have the passion to build the foundation here and that’s what we want to do. After that our goal is to start recruiting. We want to make our program a destination for people.”