A School For Bass Fishermen

March 31, 1995|By Patrick Hickerson | Patrick Hickerson,Contributing Writer

Huck Finn meets Mr. Chips this weekend at Howard Community College.

Bass Fishing Techniques Institute, an Edmond, Okla., group, will offer a two-day seminar at the college's Smith Theatre to teach such angling topics as flipping and pitching, jerkbait, spinnerbait and topwater tactics -- essential entries in the fishermen's lexicon.

The program is sanctioned by the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (BASS), the largest fishing organization in America.

For those who follow bass fishing, this weekend's lineup of instructors is a Murderers' Row of angling talent: Denny Brauer, Charlie Ingram, Randy Romig, Ken Cook, Terry Baksay and Zell Rowland.

All of them make their living fishing, sometimes up to 300 days a year. Like tennis, fishing affords the truly talented -- between 15 and 20 anglers -- a handsome income in prize money, with much more in sponsors.

Gary L. White, director of Bass Fishing Techniques, said in a telephone interview from the institute's headquarters that Mr. Brauer is the best at "flipping and pitching," which are two advanced ways of tossing a lure.

"I used to think I was a good fisherman until I started fishing with these pros," Mr. White said. "They could cast a lure into a coffee can 10 out of 10 times."

Mr. White said that Mr. Rowland, 37, is a master of topwater tactics, using a surface lure that allows the angler to see the bait because it floats.

A Conroe, Texas, resident, Mr. Rowland has been a professional since he was 13 and estimates his yearly travel expenses at between $50,000 and $65,000. "I've got to win $70,000 a year to make $5,000. You've got to be good," said Mr. Rowland, who puts in between 195 and 200 days a year fishing.

Mr. Rowland remembers landing his largest bass, between 12 1/2 and 13 pounds, more than seven years ago at Lake Okeechobee, Fla.

Another instructor, Mr. Baksay, took home $12,000 last Saturday at the BASS Masters MegaBucks Tournament in South Carolina, hooking six fish that weighed a combined 17 pounds, 9 ounces.

The college setting may seem odd, but this sport takes more than just a bamboo stick, line and hook. Fish locaters, depth finders, scents and knowledge of water's oxygen content, pH, clarity and temperature have joined the rudiments of bait and tackle. Although colleges were reluctant to offer such seminars 20 years ago, Mr. White said they now show an interest out of "a desire to involve the community."

Mr. Cook may personify the mix of academics and fishing. He has a college degree in fisheries management and was a bass specialist with the state of Oklahoma. He's also the 1991 BASS Masters Classic Champion and a 10-time finalist.

Mr. White estimates that his seminars, started in 1974, have been held at 137 colleges and universities in 33 states and Canada. Between 8,000 and 10,000 students a year sign up to learn how to catch bass.

What makes the bass -- largemouth, smallmouth or spotted -- a popular fish among anglers? For one thing, it's found in all 50 states and can live in many types of habitat such as streams, lakes, reservoirs and rivers.

In addition, "they're a very voracious type of fish. They attack their prey," Mr. White said.

A big catch in Maryland -- a "lunker -- is 5 pounds. The world record for bass is 22 1/2 pounds.

"Bass is a fish that's easy to catch sometimes and impossible to catch other times," Mr. White said. "When a cold front moves through, you couldn't dynamite them out."

As a check against overfishing, the institute stresses "catch and release" fishing.

"More than 90 percent of the fish caught at BASS tournaments are released," said Mr. White, adding that competitors are penalized if a captured fish dies. It "really would be frowned on if you brought in a big string of fish. You're looked at like you're not tuned into conserving the resource."

One question that's always asked at the seminars is how amateur anglers can turn professional. Mr. White tells them to "get in a club, get in a BASS club. Learn all you can. If you succeed there, enter regional tournaments. You have to make sure you can compete at that level first."

One graduate of Bass Fishing Techniques went on to win the Super Bowl of bass fishing last year. Bryan Kerchal quit college, went into debt to become a professional fisherman and captured BASS Masters Classic -- the event's only amateur champion. Tragically he was killed less than five months later at age 23 in a plane crash near Raleigh-Durham International Airport. The institute has been dedicated to the memory of Mr. Kerchal.

Howard Community College will sponsor the second annual Bass Fishing Techniques Institute from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. tomorrow and Sunday at Smith Theatre. Same-day registration begins at 7 a.m. The cost is $74. Information: 715-2433.

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