Alabama bass fishing reels in No. 1 rankingBy Joe Klingbeil | 04/18/2016 10:24am
There was no doubt in John Davis' mind where he was going to college. The Birmingham native grew up loving The University of Alabama and knew he wanted to take classes at The Capstone. It was the only school he applied to.
However, the beautiful campus and its one-of-a-kind atmosphere weren’t what attracted Davis to Tuscaloosa – it was the University's bass fishing club.
"I probably would've gone to a different school if they didn't have a bass fishing team here," Davis said, "but I knew they did and I was pretty set on going to Alabama from early on in high school."
Long before Davis spent the majority of his days on Lay Lake and Lake Martin casting off the bow of his Phoenix 920, the Alabama fishing team president grew up catching bass on his grandfather's dock on Lake Mitchell, a 5,850-acre body of water that sits just 45 minutes south of Birmingham.
Taught to fish by his parents and grandfather, whose house sits on the water, Davis has been comfortable with a rod and reel in his hand since he was just a little kid.
"I've been fishing pretty much my whole life," Davis said. "My grandfather and both my parents introduced me to bluegill fishing and a little bit of bass fishing off the dock."
Davis, a junior majoring in marketing, actually found a love for bass fishing not in the open blue, but on the green.
"I actually played golf before I began fishing competitively,” Davis said. “I would bring my rod out to the golf course and get to fish some that way and that got me more into bass fishing."
Now, almost six years after his first fishing competition, Davis and his fellow Alabama fishermen find themselves in a position that they have been working towards all season: No. 1 in the Cabela’s School of the Year race.
The team aims to be within the top 10 of the list, so to be at the peak ignited its competitive fire even more so. In order to get to – and stay – where they are, the fishermen put hours of time and effort into perfecting their craft.
"When we go [practice], we are out there on the lake for 12-13 hours a day, and it's from daylight until dark," Davis said.
Since the team doesn't have a set practice schedule, the fishermen usually go out to the lake and practice individually, ranging anywhere from one to four days a week. When they hit the lake, it's not just a bunch of guys sitting on the bank tossing out a line and a bobber for an hour or two.
"When we go to a tournament, we usually get up there a week or even ten days in advance and we we will practice from daylight to dark every day leading up to the tournament,” Davis said. “Then, [we] wake up extra early and get to the tournament boat ramp before daylight and then fish almost all day, and then get up and do the same thing the next day. It's definitely grueling, especially when you have to drive 500-600 miles one way just to get to the tournament destination."
Cabela’s Collegiate Bass Fishing features tournaments all across the country. The next two are in Alabama and Illinois.
As soon as Alabama finds out about an upcoming tournament, it starts its planning, regardless of how far away it is time-wise.
"It starts weeks, months ahead of time," junior John Bryant said. "We start looking at maps and patterns of tournaments that have been won in the past."
Bryant said he’s currently preparing for a tournament in Oklahoma that is scheduled to begin over three months from now. This tournament will be much like the others, spanning over a weekend, which Bryant and Davis said makes the competition long and grueling.
Everything, from the boats the fishermen use for the tournaments to the bait they put on their hooks, costs money. The fishermen and their families pay for and provide it all.
It takes preparation, time and sacrifice for fishermen to be successful, and even more for the teams that are the best in the country. With just a few weeks left in the season, Alabama is looking to hold onto its top spot.
"It's something we set as a goal for the team this year," Davis said. "Luckily, we have enough active members who are out there trying to work for it and get the job done and bring home the No. 1 ranking in the country."