College bass fishing is taking off across the country, and Louisiana is no exception, with almost a dozen schools across the state sending teams out to national competition, a stepping stone to the pros for many. And high school bass fishing isn’t far behind.
There are plenty of Davids: Bethel University, Bryan College and Murray State; capable of beating the Goliaths: Ohio State, Penn State and Clemson — at least in one college sport.
That’s because the green fish the players love to chase and catch don’t care about the budgets and size of the school they’re representing when they compete in college bass-fishing tournaments. Bass have a way of leveling the playing field so that skill, savvy and perseverance are the keys to success.
Nearly a dozen colleges and universities in Louisiana have bass fishing teams, multiple two-man teams that regularly compete and have won regular-season and national contests. They have proven they must be reckoned with on any body of water, in-state or out-of-state.
A poster boy for college bass fishing in Louisiana is Brett Preuett of Monroe, who overcame an accident that blinded him in his right eye the day after he graduated from high school, effectively ending his dream of playing college baseball. He helped start the team at the University of Louisiana-Monroe, won the 2014 Bassmaster College Classic Bracket, earned a berth in the 2015 Bassmaster Classic, started cashing in Bassmaster Opens and now fishes the Bassmaster Elite Series. Other ex-Louisiana college anglers who have made waves as pros are Tyler Rivet of Raceland (Nicholls State), Tyler Stewart of West Monroe (ULM) and Hunter Freeman of Monroe (ULM).
Chasing the dream
Braxton Resweber of St. Martinville, a senior at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, is hopeful of following in their footsteps.
“That’s been my dream since I was 5 years old, watching Bassmaster on TV,” said Resweber, who fished his first tournament, with his father, Paul, on Henderson Lake in St. Martin Parish the next year. “It’s been a great learning experience. I would encourage any high schooler that’s a serious bass fisherman to give it a shot. I have learned a lot.”
Resweber gave up one sport he loves for another. He was on the mound after a sterling career at St. Martinville Senior High, when he decided to leave LSU-Eunice. He wanted a fishing rod in his hand instead of a baseball.
“I started (fishing collegiately) in the fall of 2017. I wanted to do it because I didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity. That’s why I transferred to ULL,” he said.
Resweber has fished both Louisiana B.A.S.S. Nation and FLW events for three years on the Ragin’ Cajun bass fishing team.
Two highlights were during the 2019-20 season, starting with a first-place finish in a 66-team college national championship qualifier on Texas’ Lake Sam Rayburn. Resweber and Charles “T.J.” Norris of New Iberia boated a five-bass limit weighing 20.69 pounds to win $2,400 and earn a berth in the 2020 Bassmaster College Series Championship this month on Florida’s Harris Chain of Lakes.
After the win in November 2019, Resweber said the team “kept the momentum going” in January with an eighth-place finish in a 250-boat Bassmaster College Series tournament on Toledo Bend. The rest of the year’s schedule was sidelined by the COVID-19 pandemic, resuming only a month ago.
Resweber faces plenty of stiff competition this month on the Harris Chain. The Bassmaster College Series Championship will have as many as 130 teams representing colleges and universities across the nation. The top four teams from the earn a chance to compete for a berth in the 2021 Bassmaster Classic in March at Texas’ Lake Ray Roberts. Those two-man teams are also competing for a berth in November at the Bassmaster College Series Bracket Challenge on Alabama’s Lay Lake.
Eugene Hoover of Gonzales, who recently retired as Louisiana B.A.S.S. Nation Youth director, has guided college, high school and junior Bassmaster events since 2012. Tommy Abbott of Central succeeded him earlier this year.
Resweber appreciated Hoover’s assistance in getting started and keeping up with the college circuit.
“He’s always real nice. He really helped the organization get to where it is,” he said. “He was always trying to push the college state championship the day after the B.A.S.S. Nation. That gives you another chance to qualify for the national championship.”
At least three major collegiate bass-fishing circuits compete in Louisiana: the Bassmaster College Series, Fishing League Worldwide College Fishing and Collegiate Bass Fishing.
Louisiana’s talent pool
Up-and-coming college anglers include ULM’s Connor Nimrod and Morgan Jalaldin, who won an FLW event earlier this year at Lake Texoma; Southeastern Louisiana’s Wyatt Ensminger and Dawson Andrews, who won the Louisiana B.A.S.S. Nation College State Championship in March out of Berwick, and LSU’s Heath Pinnell and Jordan Davenport, who reeled in a second-place finish at Berwick, followed by ULL’s Bruce Bellot and Chris Scallan.
Hoover said nine Louisiana schools fish the Bassmaster College Series: UL-Lafayette, Southeastern Louisiana, Louisiana Tech, Nicholls State, UL-Monroe, LSU, LSU-Shreveport, McNeese State and Northwestern State. For information, visit www.bassmaster.com/college-bass-fishing.
Kevin Hunt of Benton, Ky., FLW’s director of tournament operations for college and high school fishing, said the FLW field includes 300 colleges and universities from 30 states. Louisiana colleges and universities that active recently in FLW events include ULM, LSU, McNeese, LSU-Shreveport, Northwestern State, Louisiana College, Louisiana Tech and UL-Lafayette. For information go to flwfishing.com.
One of three McNeese teams — Alex Murray and Trent Manuel — finished 14th at the FLW College Fishing National Championship in June 2019 on the Potomac River, the highest-finishing team from Louisiana.
Louisiana colleges and universities also try to qualify for the BoatUS Collegiate Bass Fishing Championship. Active on the circuit have been LSU, LSU-Shreveport, ULM and McNeese. LSU’s Alec Louque and Jordan Davenport finished 13th in the national tournament June 10-11 on Alabama’s Pickwick Lake. For information go to www.collegiatebasschampionship.com.
Start ‘em young: high school bass fishing
On the morning of Nov. 2, 2019, the sun was rising over a bayou near Stephensville, turning darkness to light and shining on the water dotted with nearly 200 boats.
Mother Nature’s grandeur got even grander a few minutes later as a bass boat carrying the American flag idled through the boats to start the Louisiana High School B.A.S.S. Nation East Qualifier.
Tommy Abbott of Central knows the feeling well. A 54-year-old outdoorsman, he succeeded Eugene Hoover of Gonzales a few months ago as Louisiana B.A.S.S. Nation youth director. He remembered calling boat numbers with Jim Breaux of Central for the beginning of a tournament.
“I’m standing out there calling numbers. Jim’s calling on the other side. I walk out there, and I get to see all those faces. I get a warm feeling. I get chills,” he said, likening the experience to begin in an athletic competition himself.
What pleases Abbott the most is the young bass anglers go out, compete against each other and, no matter how they fare, always return with a smile on their face. Hoover agrees.
“They come in one big family. I’ve never been so satisfied with something in my lifetime, no doubt,” said. Hoover, 62, who retired in 2013 after seven years as principal at Lutcher High School.
He started bass fishing soon after he moved to Lutcher in 1980. He became the Louisiana B.A.S.S. Nation youth director in 2012, in charge of three age groups — Junior Bassmasters (pre-high school), high school and college.
Growth of the sport
High-school bass fishing has grown by leaps and bounds, Hoover said recently.
“It’s been great. When we first started, we had little participation. About all we had was 30 boats,” he said. “Participation at this time is probably 100 high schools, nine colleges and five Junior Bassmasters.”
Hunter Neuville of Loreauville was a freshman when he started bass fishing for Highland Baptist Christian School in New Iberia.
“It was something I wanted to get into,” he said. “More schools were starting a team. It was growing and growing. Oh, it wasn’t hard at all. I just pretty much talked to who was in charge of sports (at HBCS) and just went from there.”
HBCS had two teams Neuville’s first year, three his sophomore year, two as a junior and senior. He usually fishes with teammate Avery Derouen.
Neuville said high school bass fishing has been a great experience. He has made good friends from other high school teams, including Connor Rushing, who graduated last spring from Central High in Baton Rouge, and Peyton Grizzaffi of Morgan City High. Tournament fishing has honed his game to the point he is sponsored by Cajun Lures and Kajun Boss Outdoors.
Neuville recommended that interested young bass fishermen give high school competition a try.
“Oh, yeah, definitely. I think if they’re trying to grow into the sport of fishing, that’s the best way to go,” he said.
Abbott agreed: “There are plenty of opportunities out there. We have, I think, 500 teams compete with us. That’s 1,000 kids, 500 adults.”
The Louisiana High School B.A.S.S. Nation fishes nine qualifying tournaments and a state championship annually, according to Abbott, whose son fished three years on the team at Central High. That’s what hooked Abbott, who got involved in 2018.
“When he graduated, we loved it so much we just wanted to give back to the kids,” he said.
Breaux, Abbott said, is president of the Junior Southwest Bassmasters of Denham Springs, which has more than 120 members between 7 and 18. He schedules 11 tournaments each year.
“He helps us. I help him. We put on well over 30 tournaments a year,” Abbott said.
When Hoover stepped aside as director, Abbott stepped up. Hoover and his wife, Joan, remain valuable volunteers.
“He’s still tournament director for the Eastern Division. He’s given so much of his time the last 10 years, he deserves a break,” Abbott said.
Hoover plans to take 22 high school teams and three Junior Bassmaster teams to the national championship in October. The high schoolers will fish at Kentucky Lake, while the youngsters will fish at Carroll County Lake in Tennessee.
To find out more about Louisiana High School B.A.S.S. Nation, go to louisianahighschoolbassnation.com or go to the organization’s Facebook page.
Louisiana’s high school anglers have another avenue to fish tournaments and earn a shot at nationals, one provided by FLW High School Fishing. FLW aligned itself with the Louisiana High School Athletic Association and schedules three regional tournaments and a state tournament on a circuit featuring approximately 30 high schools and 90 teams across Louisiana.
Kevin Hunt of Benton, Ky., a former youth minister, has overseen college and high school bass tournaments across the country for FLW since 2004.
“I think it’s a dream come true for me,” Hunt said. “It’s great to see them go from one circuit to the next,” he said.
To find out more about FLW High School Fishing, call 270-252-1000 or go to flwfishing.com.
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