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Collegiate bass fishing’s rise to mainstream notoriety in recent years has created a ripple effect across the landscape of competitive fishing. This ripple effect reaches far wider than many would have ever thought, influencing a whole generation of young anglers, and shaping the future of professional fishing simultaneously.
Children who once aspired to go to college on a football scholarship, now strive to lip largemouths while wearing their favorite collegiate team’s jersey. On the other end of the spectrum, we are now afforded an early glance at the class of pro anglers to come, as they fight their way through the college ranks, bent on victory.
A number of young anglers have gained some level of notoriety due to their success at the college level, and every year several unique, personal storylines unfold. However, few such stories rival that of the Mckendree University anglers, Ethan Jones and Andrew Althoff, and their uphill battle to success.
No Easy Path
While all collegiate anglers certainly earn their rightful spot on the tournament waters, some face greater odds in getting there. So begins the story of Ethan Jones and Andrew Althoff, who both set their minds to a vision, and steadfastly denied any notion that they would fall short of their goals.
When in high school, Ethan Jones was a man on a mission, a mission that he intended to succeed at, despite being forced to blaze a path all his own. Jones had taken the notion to bass fish competitively, after a talk with a friend of the same approximate age. “One of our buddies from a local lake around me started a bass fishing team at another local school. He explained how he got started, and how he went to State a couple of times and was able to walk across FLW’s big, main tour stage,” said Jones.
This conversation lit a fire under Ethan Jones, inspiring him to pursue the same endeavor himself. However, there was only one problem. The small private school that Jones attended had no such team, and with a relatively small enrolled student body, finding a co-angler would prove to be a challenge.
“I thought, man that’s pretty cool, and I love fishing. But unfortunately, the school he went to was outside of my district,” said Jones. “The little private school that I attended had just opened up the year before, and I told them that I wanted to start a fishing team, and asked what I needed to do. They told me that whoever wanted to fish needed to sign up and that I needed to let them know who, and how many, were fishing,” Jones continued.
After being assured that all paperwork would be sent to the appropriate governing bodies to initiate the team, and jerseys would be ordered, Jones set out to find a co-angler. “ I thought, okay this sounds pretty easy. I just couldn’t find anyone to fish with me,” Jones said.
Luckily, this did not dash Ethan Jones’ dreams, as he was still given the green light to launch a team as he had hoped, albeit, a one-man team at that. “There were only 46 kids in the school at that time. So they ended up letting me fish by myself.”
Despite fishing solo throughout his high school career in regular co-angler fields, Jones held nothing back, and he began to find success in short order. “My freshmen year, I got fourth in my Sectional, out of twenty-eight teams. Then the next year, I got second at Sectionals and qualified for our state tournament in Illinois, which I went to and actually won. I am still the only person to have ever won State fishing by myself,” said Jones.
Andrew Althoff also faced his own challenges as he fished his way through the high school ranks, and into his collegiate career at Mckendree. Though he had the available opportunity to fish at the high school level, Althoff’s challenges came in the form of being forced to adapt, overcome, and learn on the fly.
Althoff began his competitive bass fishing career later than many high school anglers and therefore found himself in a position that required him to learn the ins and outs of tournament angling at a rapid pace. “I fished my first tournament at 16,” said Althoff.
However, Althoff proved to be a quick learner, as he found success almost immediately. “My very next tournament was the IHSA Sectionals, and we ended up winning. So I qualified for the same State Championships that he did (referring to Jones),” Althoff said.
“Don’t be afraid to adapt and be versatile. Always be open to learning new things,” said Althoff. “It’s never too late to get involved if you want to. Always be willing to ask questions and learn from people who have more experience than you, or may even be a better fisherman than you,” Althoff continued.
Bassmaster College Series at Smith Lake
Ethan Jones and Andrew Althoff represented Mckendree University at the 2020 Bassmaster College Series, on Smith Lake in Alabama. The three-day tournament was held on February 27th through the 29th.
Smith Lake carries quite the reputation as an excellent spotted bass fishery. As the tournament began, the bulk of the field targeted these bass, for which the lake is so well known. However, the Mckendree team had a different plan in mind and intended to make this plan pay dividends, or go bust trying.
“After we unsuccessfully tried fishing for spotted bass on our first day of practice, we decided we would try to hit a largemouth spot at the end of the day. We hooked two three-pound largemouths in a matter of about thirty minutes,” said Althoff.
“We came back day-one of the tournament, fished in that area, and caught two four-pound largemouths pretty early in the event. Then after a lull in the middle of the day, we came back and filled out the rest of our limit, putting us at 20-pounds overall and giving us a four-pound lead over the rest of the field going into day-two,” Althoff continued.
The Mckendree team experienced continued success with the same approach on day two. All five of the team’s fish came from the same area as the day before, and they went into day three with a sizable lead. This would prove to be instrumental in the final day of the tournament.
As the third day of the Bassmaster College Series began, Ethan Jones and Andrew Althoff were faced with a dilemma. The lake’s water level was dropping, and the area in which they had experienced such success on days one and two was getting shallower by the minute.
“Day three, they were dropping the water, and we were already fishing really shallow for the lake. So we ended up having to scramble to find a different area to fish on day three. We found a secondary area, and were able to manage to catch three keepers on day three,” said Althoff.
Although the Mckendree team did not catch their full bag on day three, the lead that was built during the prior two days of fishing was enough to assist them in bringing home the win, putting together a 47-pound 4-ounce total weight for the tournament. Not only did this add to the team’s list of past successes, but it also qualified them to fish in the Bassmaster College Classic on Lay Lake, where they placed ninth overall.
Words Of Wisdom
When asked what advice should be given to young anglers that one day dream of fishing at the high school, college, or even professional level, Jones and Althoff were quick to share words of wisdom.
“Keep up with your studies, that’s number one,” says Jones. “When I was younger, I tried to fish more than I did homework, and I was told by my parents that if I didn’t get good grades, I couldn’t fish. That determination to fish made me determined in my studies,” Jones continued.
Ethan Jones also had another piece of advice for anyone testing the tournament angling waters. “Don’t ever give up. Even if fishing is slow, if you will think with a clear head and grind it out, you can catch a whole limit of fish in thirty minutes. I’ve seen it many times,” he said.
Althoff also expressed the value of learning upon every available opportunity, whether academically, or in relation to fishing. “Always be studious in your academics. At the same time, it is also important to be equally studious in your bass fishing,” said Althoff.
Both Jones and Althoff express an ingrained interest in future careers based in conservation, outside of the obvious goal of taking their angling endeavors to the next level. Althoff is a biology major, with the goal to become a fisheries biologist, while Jones is an environmental science major, and hopes to one day work with the U.S. Forestry Service.
While only time will tell what the future holds, it is fairly safe to say that if the past is any indicator, both Ethan Jones and Andrew Althoff will find much success on the water and beyond.