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University of Alabama Fishing Team: Let's Talk Rules

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Alabama anglers, a national powerhouse, once again advanced to the National Championship this season. Over the next few weeks we'll take a look at the sport and the team. Today, we go over the history and rules.

Most of us have spent time fishing at some point in our lives. Whether it is with our dads, grandfathers, moms, or a friend at the ponds and creek, with bobbers and live bait, so this sport is in the unique position of pulling at many people's heartstrings (I mean, even The Andy Griffith Show opened with Andy taking Opie fishing.) But competitive angling is a relatively new activity, just being jumpstarted in the late 1960's by Ray Scott who formed the Bass Angler Sportsman Society (BASS) and held the world's first ever bass tournament.

Rules Primer

Tournament fishing is an entirely different animal than most people have experienced. Tournament anglers fish for black bass only - Largemouth, Smallmouth, and Spotted Bass being the most common types of this fish. The Largemouth is the most famous, and well deserved, as it is by far the largest of the bass sub-species (The World Record Largemouth is 22 lbs. 5 oz., compared to 11 lbs. 15 oz. for Smallmouth, and 10 lbs. 7 oz. for Spotted Bass) and thus the most profitable fish for tournament anglers.

Anglers attempt to catch the largest weight possible during a tournament day, and that weight is limited to five fish. The five-fish limit is important, because it ensures that anglers don't just stumble into one big bite, or spend all day catching a number of fish. Rather, the rules truly determine who is the best angler and can get more quality fish.

One of the biggest differences between recreational fishing and tournament fishing is the use of live bait. Live bait is strictly prohibited in tournament fishing, so no digging up worms or stopping for minnows on the way to the water. The baits used are all highly designed, highly crafted, and highly expensive (Lucky Craft, one of the premier hard bait manufacturers, has an average cost of $15 per bait, and they aren't even the most expensive.)

Gear used by the anglers is also much different than the Zebco 33's most people grew up with. Extremely sensitive rods, reels with 11-ball bearing systems, and most combinations used by tournament anglers, range in price from $200 to well over $1,000 for one rod and reel.

Boats are among the most recognizable thing about tournament anglers. Sleek, fast, lightweight boats allow anglers to move from spot to spot at high speeds, allow them to use electronic equipment to gather extremely important information (water temperature, depth, scanning of what's in the water, etc), slow down, fish with the electric trolling motor, and of course they hold of all that expensive tackle carefully.

Tournaments begin at "Safe Light," which is defined as the time that it is deemed safe enough to send fiberglass missiles at 80 mph across a lake with no brakes. They normally end at 3:00 p.m. At 3:00 anglers bring their daily catch to the "Tournament Director," who weighs the fish and deducts any penalties (late to weigh-in or dead fish are the most common infractions.) Most tournaments last multiple days, so the anglers' weights are totaled across all days, and the angler with the most weight wins.

College Fishing is also a tandem event, unlike professional angling. College tournaments permit two anglers per boat, and the pair combine their catch to meet a single five-fish limit. Likewise, professional tournaments may have dozens of anglers competing individually against one another, and thus are not likely to share information, college anglers are competing as part of a team (both with their boating partner, and other boats from the same school,) so the flow of information is much better.

College Fishing History and Crowning Champions

College fishing traces its roots back to 1992, when Purdue and Indiana faced off in a tournament, but is much more recently became widespread and popular. Starting in the mid-2000's, many schools across the country began adding teams, including the University of Alabama (est. 2006). College fishing is different than most sports, as it isn't an NCAA-sanctioned sport, nor does it want to be. If NCAA rules were enforced upon the sport, it would die, as anglers require sponsorships from major companies. There are cash prizes and products awarded for the competitors to  afford events, maintain boats, pay entry fees, and have tackle with which to fish. As a result, College fishing teams are under the auspices of sports club -- as with hockey and rugby.

The structure of college fishing is much like the professional anglers, where there are two main series, the FLW (Fishing League Worldwide) and the Bassmaster (ran by BASS discussed above.) The same two organizations have college trails, the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series and the FLW College Series. This provides two national champions each year (BASS is the AP, FLW is the UPI for all you old school football fans). Each trail has a series of regional qualifiers, where anglers from schools in that region, go to one lake to compete against each other for the right to go fish the National Championship tournament. BASS has five Regionals and a "Wild Card" to gain berths in the National Championship. The FLW Series on the other hand has 2-3 qualifiers in each "conference" (basically regions, although divided differently from BASS.) These FLW qualifiers in turn have a "Conference Championship" so as to qualify for the National Championship. The FLW has an additionally you can qualify through their "Open" tournament, which is in form the same as BASS's wildcard qualifying.

TL; DR version: College anglers are now able to compete on a national scale in tournaments set up much like the professional Bassmaster you see on all Bass Pro Shops commercials: Catch the five biggest fish each day, win, and advance to a national championship tournament. Catch the five biggest fish each day there, win a National Championship, get a cool trophy, be back in Econ on Wednesday.