Move Over Boys..Tech Angler Reels in a First

by | Jun 1, 2012 | Features

The breeze coming off the lake has the smell that seems a paradox — clean yet fishy. If the smell had color it would be a cool green. The rhythmic lapping of waves against the boat’s gunwales sets a rhythm for the angler’s casts. Suddenly, the peaceful scene is shattered with a flurry of action. The hook is set and the fight is on. In a battle that seems to take minutes, but actually lasts a few seconds, the largemouth bass is brought to hand as the pony-tailed angler clamps her thumb onto the fish’s lower jaw. The bold graphics of her jersey faintly glow in the morning sunlight. The world of college bass fishing has been given notice — it’s time to move over boys.

Modeled after professional tournament circuits, college bass fishing has exploded on the outdoor scene in the last few years. It was the brainchild of Little Rock Arkansas native and fishing legend, Jerry McKinnis in 2005.
Steeped as it is in bass fishing legend, it’s no wonder that the Arkansas River Valley is home to the first college in Arkansas to join the circuit.
Christy Austin, an adjunct instructor in the Arkansas Tech University Department of Parks/Recreation and Hospitality Administration, sponsored the bass fishing club at ATU in 2006. Christy was the first female college bass club sponsor in the nation. She and club co-founder, Dr. Theresa Herrick, have been instrumental in the success of ATU’s Fishing Club. Current ATU P/R/HA Department head Dr. Cathi McMahan now co-sponsors with Christy.
Their support of the student-anglers helps insure that the club will be a force on the tournament circuit and a force they have been. Crowned champion of that 2006 season, ATU’s club is a threat to win anytime they are on the water.

College bass fishing is more than just a good fun and competition, however, as Christy explained, “It’s so much more than fishing. These kids are ambassadors for their school, conservationists and role models all in one.”
The information age has brought even small rural colleges into the spotlight of national coverage.
“There are three college tournament circuits,” said Christy, “ FLW, Boat U.S., and B.A.SS. All of these circuits have been featured on national networks ESPNU, Fox College Sports, and the VS Network. The B.A.S.S. and FLW websites cover the circuits as well. That’s a lot of exposure and many times it’s the only exposure that parts of the country will have to small colleges like Arkansas Tech.”
On the local level, Christy insures that ATU anglers are involved with the community and conservation efforts.
“The club recently taught a water safety course at St. John’s elementary school here in Russellville. They were also involved in picking up litter during National Public Lands Day and perform other conservation work as well. They strive to be good role models, not only for young children, but for all anglers and outdoors people. Student anglers must also maintain a 2.0 grade point average in order to be tournament eligible.”
The club has experienced great success during the 2012 season, but the year’s big story involving Arkansas Tech and the college bass fishing circuit as a whole has been Reagan Moore.

Reagan is a 20 year-old junior at ATU. She is studying emergency management and will graduate December 2012. Reagan, like Christy Austin, is also a pioneer. She is the first female angler to win a collegiate bass fishing tournament event, ever.
An interesting sidebar regarding college bass fishing is that there are no divisions in regards to school size. Division I schools compete head-to- head with smaller schools.
While other athletic competitions show a marked advantage for schools with deep pools of athletic talent, this idea doesn’t hold water when it comes to bass fishing. To the contrary, looking at tournament results would lead one to believe that the rural upbringing common to many students attending small colleges may be an advantage. Reagan’s story lends some weight to this theory.
Moore may be the new kid on the block when it comes to college bass fishing winners, but she says the fishing bug bit her a long time ago.
“I’ve been fishing since I was big enough to hold a pole.”
Reagan is from Dierks, a small town in southwest Arkansas. Fishing and outdoor pursuits are a birthright to rural Arkansans regardless of gender. Reagan was no exception.

“I’m pretty sure my dad wanted a boy when I was born. Dad and Poppy started me out hunting and fishing, doing all those outdoor things. I wanted to fish all the time, even when I was little.”
“My grandpa had to force me off the lake so he could go to work. I always knew I had a passion for fishing more than anything else.”
Many youngsters enjoy angling, but sometimes the desire dims as they grow older. Reagan’s fire to fish grew stronger with time.

“My grandparents hoped that I would love fishing, that I would always love fishing. I don’t think they ever dreamed that I would be like this, though. I love it more than any of my family does, I just go and go and go and go.”

Reagan understood that most people considered fishing a ‘boy’s sport.’ That public notion was the fuel for her competitive drive.
“I knew in high school that none of the girls did it, it’s supposed to be a boy’s sport. When I started beating the boys, that’s when I got hooked. I was beating the boys and that feeling was just great.”
“I set a goal when I started fishing in college to be the first girl to win one of these college tournaments and I did it. I don’t care if I ever win a championship or whatever. I’m the first girl to leave their mark on college fishing.”
No doubt more girls will follow. In a time when outdoors recreation has seen a drop in participants as a whole, female participation is at an all-time high.
Trailblazers such as Christy and Reagan can claim direct responsibility for introducing more young women to the joys of a misty morning on the water.
Perhaps an addition to that age-old song is in order. Sugar and spice… and maybe some of that cool green water. That’s what some little girls are made of.
Pride and Local Support

Arkansas Tech Fishing Club Sponsor Christy Austin is not only proud of the student anglers, but the community support as well.
“‘I have a great (personal) support system — my mom, Kathy Austin; my daughter Katie Winberry; my brothers Charles and Stephen Austin, their wives and children, and the special man in my life, Brad Brewer.”

My bosses at Ridout have been supportive as well. There are times I spend away from all of them working on club events or at meetings, but they understand how important this club is to the college anglers.”
“I have a great group of volunteers that help me organize our yearly tournament and make sure it runs smoothly. They include: Tina Kemp, Christina Krueger, Colleen Adams, Gary Collins, Chris Koch, Jeremy Wilmouth, Joan and Lester Craig, Donnie Cobb and Jeff Ralston and our ‘Top Chef’ Mr. Ron Cornell. This group has been with the club since our first invitational in 2006.”
The ATU Bass Club was the first to host a college invitational. The 7th Annual ATU Invitational is scheduled for July 13 and 14 on Lake Dardanelle. The public is invited to come out and watch the weigh-ins on Friday and Saturday, beginning at 2 p.m.
“The community will get a chance to see some of the top college anglers in the country competing on our own Lake Dardanelle,” said Austin.

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