Overcoming adversity to achieve success is the mark of a championship team like Dawson Andrews and Wyatt Ensminger, tournament partners from the Southeastern Louisiana University fishing team who won the 2020 Louisiana B.A.S.S. Nation College Championship last March.
That title was another notch in the rod handle for the two young men who live within 5 minutes of each other in Central. They are among the growing number of college student-athletes in Louisiana who pick up a fishing rod to compete.
Andrews and Ensminger had their share of adversity and anxiety on the way to winning the championship, which propelled them to the 2020 Carhartt Bassmaster National Championship last October 2020. While prefishing for the state tournament in the Atchafalaya Delta out of Berwick, Ensminger’s bass boat hit a wooden pier under the surface, obscured by lily pads.
“That gave us a good scare down there,” Ensminger said.
The transom was cracked but the boat was usable the next day — it was repaired later. They traveled an hour upriver from the boat launch at the juncture of the Atchafalaya River and Intracoastal Waterway to fish found by Andrews, who convinced Ensminger to go there March 4. The SLU sophomores didn’t have a bite, though, until 11 a.m.
Bass started biting, and they returned to the weigh-in with the winning weight of 16.64 pounds, including the day’s biggest bass, a 4.34-pounder. Seven months later, they fished the national tournament, and their 28 pounds, 5 ounces, on the Harris Chain of Lakes in Leesburg, Fla., gave them a lofty 23rd-place finish.
A long friendship
The college state championship was their second major win since 2017, when they won the Louisiana B.A.S.S. High School state tournament on the Atchafalaya Delta. They were sophomores on the bass fishing team that they started as freshmen at Central High under the guidance of Ensminger’s father, Tom Ensminger.
Andrews and Ensminger, both 20, are, one might say, symbiotic brothers. The two bass fishing-aholics have been fishing together since age 13.
“Mr. Tom calls me his adopted son,” Andrews said. “I treat his house like it’s mine sometimes.”
The two anglers think alike, a key to putting bass in the livewell at crunch time.
“Well, Mr. Tom likes to say we share a brain. I’ve got half and (Wyatt) has got half. We normally know what each other’s thinking. It normally works out pretty good,” Andrews said.
That’s an understatement. As high schoolers, they finished first in two other tournaments — with 16.56 pounds in a state qualifier out of Bayou Segnette in February 2018 and with 13.67 pounds in a state qualifier in the Atchafalaya Basin in March 2019.
As with any team sport, their success boils down to trust.
“Fishing together so long, that definitely plays a big role in all the tournaments we fish. We totally trust each other in the boat, running the trolling motor, bouncing stuff off each other” and, of course, finding fish, Ensminger said.
How it started
Andrews said one of his finest moments came after their first-ever bass tournament together. The young teens fished a Junior Bassmaster derby and finished in the middle of the pack in a 10-boat field.
“Wyatt needed a partner for the state tournament,” Andrews said. “He didn’t know anybody at the time so asked me. We got, like, fifth. We had two fish. We felt like big shots walking across the stage. They had a big crowd and everything. That’s probably one of the funnest tournaments we fished.”
It was a positive start for the up-and-coming 13-year-olds, who grew up together.
Andrews and Ensminger have the meat of their 2021 schedule planned. They will fish two of four Carhartt Bassmaster College Series regular-season tournaments, one April 16-17 at Lewis Smith Lake in Cullman, Ala., and another June 23-24 at Lay Lake in Shelby County, Ala.
Of course, they’ll try to defend their state championship. Andrews believed the 2021 B.A.S.S. Nation College Louisiana Championship would be at Toledo Bend, but officials announced Jan. 15 it would be held March 14 at Caney Lake.
Ensminger, who is majoring in electrical engineering technology, works for his grandfather’s electrical company, while Andrews, who’s major is business administration, works for his stepfather’s company.
“When people ask what my major is, I joke and I tell them it’s fishing,” Andrews said.
“After college, I don’t know if I’m going to try to find a full-time job or just try to fish (Bassmaster) Southern Opens. I’m going to give Opens a shot before I fish local tournaments,” he said.
Andrews’ favorite artificial lure is a dark-colored or “candy grass” Missile Baits D-Bomb.
Ensminger, who is related to Steve Ensminger, offensive coordinator for the 2019 national champion LSU Tigers, plans to fish Bassmaster Opens, balancing that schedule with work, and hopefully one day becoming a Bassmaster Elite.
To those middle-school and high-school students interested in competitive bass fishing, Ensminger said, “I’d tell them, I’d say, you’ve got to love it, when you’re catching them and when you’re getting your butt handed to you. You’ve got to stay committed to it.”
His favorite artificial lure is a yellow-bellied Spro Popping Frog.
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