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On Monday, January 13, 2020, college football held its national championship in a thrilling battle of the tigers as Louisiana State University and Clemson University squared off for gridiron supremacy.
The game marked the second straight national championship appearance for the South Carolina sports dynasty.
While Clemson may have come short during their valiant effort on the field, the university’s anglers still have a chance to bring home a national championship on the water.
In this installment of Premier Angler’s College Fishing Talk, we chat with Liam West, a senior business management and entrepreneurship major who serves as president of the Clemson University Bass Fishing Team.
West shares his thoughts on tournament logistics, the team’s outlook for the 2020 season, and offers some advice to young anglers looking to make a transition to the college fishing ranks.
Talking College Fishing with Liam West, Clemson University
Premier Angler: Let’s begin with your fishing journey. What brought you to the water? How did fishing become more than just a hobby or recreation?
West: I grew up having many family members that fished saltwater and freshwater. I spent many weekends growing up on Lake Murray, where I found my love for fishing and the outdoors. I began fishing tournaments in a youth club at around 13 years old or so. My high school did not have a fishing team, so I fished the FLW BFL’s during those years until I became a student at Clemson.
Premier Angler: How much of an impact, if any, did the fishing team at Clemson have on your decision to attend school there?
West: The fishing team had a major influence on my decision to attend Clemson University.
Premier Angler: Clemson’s fishing team is pretty well established. Can you share a little bit of information about the history of the squad?
West: Our club was founded in 2008, and it is still a student-run organization. Our team falls under “club sports” within the university, and any full time student can join the team. Our program has a history of producing elite talent such as Bassmaster Champion Brandon Cobb.
Premier Angler: With any competitive endeavor, there are peaks and valleys. What do you consider some of the biggest rewards of fishing for an established fishing program at a major university? Conversely, are there any challenges prospective anglers might face?
West: Some of the best rewards about fishing for Clemson University are the funding and monetary support from the school. Since we are a club sport, our teachers are able to work with us when we have to miss class to travel and compete. This is crucial for a full time student who is fishing multiple national tournaments each semester.
Perhaps the biggest challenge of fishing for Clemson is the admission process as it is getting more and more competitive each year to be accepted to Clemson.
Premier Angler: Clemson’s Bass Fishing Team has an active social media presence and media coverage across the internet. How important do you think it is it for college teams to actively promote across numerous platforms? How does your team handle social media posts, press releases, event coordination, etc?
West: We have worked hard on our social media and, as a result, we have one of the largest followings in all of college bass fishing. Being active on social media is one of the most important things as a team and for sponsors. Our social media is run by a team of 3-4 officers since we are involved in all aspects of the team.
Premier Angler: How does recruitment work for your team? What type of promotion, if any, goes into raising awareness about the team on campus, locally, online, etc.?
West: It is hard for us to recruit as a student-run organization. We are not able to offer scholarships at this time either. Our team actively meets and speaks to high school teams — that is our way of getting our foot in the door locally and sharing what our program has to offer.
We probably get direct messages daily on social media from high schoolers asking what they can do to be on our team.
Premier Angler: Funding the operational costs for a college fishing team can be daunting. How has Clemson’s crew been able to raise funds and secure sponsorships over the years to cover the cost of travel, accommodations, supplies, gear, tackle, boats, etc.?
West: There are many factors that can be associated with the sponsorship of a college bass fishing team. When a team is looking for new opportunities, it can be easiest to reach out to people you know. There are often multiple members on the team each year whose families or friends run their own business.
This can be a quick way to start new relationships. It is also important for college teams to continue to build and grow relationships each year.
Premier Angler: As a follow-up, can you tell us more about some of the fundraisers and events you host during the year.
West: We hold a fundraiser tournament each spring and fall. We also are able to sell our exclusive merchandise during special events. This fall, we also held our very first fundraiser banquet.
Premier Angler: Clemson maintains a presence at some high-profile events through the year. Recently, team members Brady Waits and Caleb Allgood qualified for the 2020 FLW National Championship. Walk us through the preparation and logistics involved in making it to these events, preparing for the competition, etc.?
West: We are currently one of the highest ranked schools in the country according to the ACA School of the Year rankings. There are many things that factor into our success besides the fishing aspect. Being able to travel with your teammates can make things more enjoyable. We are all wanting to win, but we can help each other when needed as well.
We also like to stay in houses via Airbnb or VRBO when we travel and compete. This takes away the stress of hotel parking, keeping the boats charged, etc. When you take away those worries, we are able to fish and compete at a higher level.
Brady Waits and Caleb Allgood have both had very successful national championship runs in 2019. I consider both of them great friends of mine and I know they will represent us very well in 2020 at the FLW National Championship.
Premier Angler: In a given year, what events does Clemson typically fish? What are some of the biggest events, some highlights from those events, furthest travels, etc.?
West: Our club fishes the Carhartt Bassmaster College series, Yeti FLW College Series, ACA Major Events, and Major League Fishing College Faceoff events.
These are national events, and we have had teams travel coast to coast the last few years. These drives can be anywhere from 3 hours to 20+ hour. Our team also runs an ACA sanctioned trail, where other colleges join us and compete more locally for School of the Year Points.
Premier Angler: What advice would you give to someone interested in fishing at the college level and, in particular, for Clemson?
West: The most important advice I would give to someone who wants to fish in college is to build good study habits and time management skills now. When you get to college, and you want to travel, you will need these skills to be successful on the water and in the classroom.
It does not matter what school you attend — these are the most important things if you want to fish in college.
Premier Angler: Clemson is located near some sizeable bodies of water. What are some of your favorite lakes to fish, either near the college or at home, when you are not on the circuit?
West: Obviously Lake Hartwell is one of our favorites. Lake Murray is probably my other favorite lake close to home.
Some of my favorite bodies of water that I have been able to travel to through college fishing are Lake Seminole, Lewis Smith Lake, Bull Shoals Lake, The Upper Mississippi River, and the St. Lawrence River. These are all incredible bodies of water, where I have been able to make some amazing memories that I will remember for the rest of my life.
Premier Angler: What else would you like people to know about you, the team, or college fishing in general?
West: I would like everyone to know that college fishing can be some of the most fun years of your life.
I would encourage anyone to introduce yourself and build relationships along the way. You will meet some incredible people and make friendships that can last a lifetime.
Make friends with other schools and make friends with the sponsors that help make these events successful. You never know when you will need to call someone on the water or who might be able to connect you with a job after graduation.