The swirling current of the high and muddy Ouachita River turned the big bass boat around at an odd angle, then Trapper Munn gunned the engine and pushed the boat with he and his fishing partners through about 50 yards of flooded trees and thick bushes. A little banging around off this tree and that tree plus some fast ducking to avoid getting WHOPPED by a bending green willow tree branch came next. Finally the boat broke through into a calmer, more open area, but not before the process was repeated over again to get back into ANOTHER backwater lake even further off the river.
If this sounds like something a couple of crazy college boys chasing their passion of catching largemouth bass would do, you guessed it. And if you guessed there was a crazy old man in there with them, you are right again. Me.
Munn and partner Dustin Perkins stepped into the spotlight of competitive bass fishing just over a week ago when the University of Louisiana – Monroe fishermen won the Bassmaster Central Regional on the Ouachita with a two-day catch of 19 pounds, six ounces. They will be one of 12 central division teams in the Bassmaster College National Championship on Chatuge Reservoir in Georgia July 31-Aug. 2. Perkins is from Pineville and Munn is from Oak Grove. Both are seniors.
To say they are excited would be an understatement.
“It was awesome,” says Perkins. “We have fished all over the place and to win a big tournament in our backyard is just crazy.”
Munn agreed, but said he learned a lot about more than fishing in the win. “One of the reporters asked me where we were fishing and how and I just blurted it out. I wish I wouldn’t have told them quite so many details.”
Live and learn. Besides, as I told Trapper, “Little Moon Lake” isn’t that big of a secret anyway. Not any more…
We got to fish a lot of the water where they had fished in the tournament. One local fisherman who passed by and recognized the
fishermen laughed and said, “You boys came in today just for a little fun, huh? Nice to not have the pressure of a tournament”.
They grinned and agreed. Fishing off the Ouachita River this time of year can be challenging, but it is also fun. If you do fish the backwater areas, make sure you let somebody know where you are going and make sure YOU know where you are going. It was nice to know there is a compass app on my cell phone, by the way.
The highlight of the trip for me, besides getting to know these polite and talented young fisherman, was catching my first bass ever on a Sweet Beaver, their lure of choice to win the College Championship. It looks like a crawfish that got run over, grew a couple of extra claws and has a beaver-like tail. To bass, it must just look like supper.
On a more serious note, competitive bass fishing on the collegiate level has come out of nowhere and blossomed like an azalea bush in spring. I’m glad this wasn’t around when I was in college because that diploma on the wall…well, it would probably not be there.
“It’s a challenge,” Perkins said. “We have to be gone for a week sometimes for practice and a tournament. ULM recognizes the events and we are excused from classes.” Imagine that, cutting class to go fishing — and it’s excused! They do have to make up all the work, though, and that isn’t easy. The sport is also very expensive and the fishermen don’t get much help.
While a handful of college football players (on full scholarship with personal tutors, their own “apartment” dorm rooms and a training table that would make the Picadilly jealous) clamor to be in a union so they can be treated better, these young fishermen representing their colleges and universities would be happy just for some help with fishing uniforms, expense money and a pack of baits or two.
The way I understand it, the ULM team is basically a “club” and winnings from the club fishermen go back to the club, not to the individuals. That money is then used to help defray some of the expenses for traveling. But when you consider ONE of those Sweet Beaver soft plastic lures costs almost a dollar and a good rod and reel costs $200 each, the cost adds up quickly. Neither Perkins nor Munn had any complaints, but I’ll say it: It would be nice to see college fishermen get a little more support from their schools and some more sponsors. There were more fans at the final weigh-in of the tournament than I’ve seen at a whole lot of other college athletic events. Getting them some more help is a win-win situation.
In doing a little research, I’ve found some school teams receive financial aid or help with expenses from their institution. Some schools have their teams set up to allow a small portion of the winnings to be kept by the individuals who win it. One college’s team is sponsored by their local Tourism Bureau and others are sponsored by sporting goods dealers and other businesses. College fishing isn’t exactly an NCAA sport, so teams can do whatever they want within the rules of the organizations like BASS and FLW that put on these tournaments.
This is a sport that is on the grow. Six NLU fishermen and two from Louisiana Tech have qualified for this year’s national championship and I’m sure they would love to hear from some folks willing to put bucks behind the bass! If you are a position to help these guys catch a break, or know someone who is, help them out. They net a lot of great positive media exposure for their universities and communities. In the meantime, good fishing and keep up the good work!