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As we have seen throughout our College Fishing Talk series, anglers not only have to maintain a dedication to improving their own skills, but often must also show a certain entrepreneurial spirit and initiative in order to help their squads thrive.
Austin Elswick, a senior human health science and pre-med major who serves as president of the University of Kentucky Bass Fishing Team, has shown that initiative prior to and during his collegiate fishing days.
In our latest installment of Premier Angler’s College Fishing Talk, we speak with Elswick about his fishing journey, Kentucky’s goals for the 2020 season, and how he prepares for some of the nation’s most competitive college fishing tournaments.
Talking College Fishing with Austin Elswick, University of Kentucky Bass Fishing Team President
Premier Angler: Everyone’s fishing journey begins somewhere. Let’s talk about your earliest experiences on the water and how that shaped your decision to fish at the college level. Did you fish any tournaments as a youth? Any high school fishing?
Elswick: I started bass fishing a little late into my childhood, but began in the small streams/creeks of Eastern Kentucky fishing for smallmouth bass. My dad took me on my first wade trip when I was in 6th grade and the moment I saw a smallmouth “water walk” for the first time, I knew I had to chase after them the rest of my life.
We did not really have any decent lakes around home to tournament fish, so I grew up as a river/creek rat essentially. I did start my high school’s bass fishing team my senior year, however, and started really focusing on tournament fishing from there.
Premier Angler: Being from the state, obviously University of Kentucky would be on your radar. Did the fishing team have any influence on your decision to attend?
Elswick: Honestly, the fishing team had no influence on why I chose the University of Kentucky.
I actually received a 4 year, expense-free academic scholarship to the University. I did know about the fishing team and realized I really wanted to be a part of it and help the team grow while I was at UK.
I think in-state students wanting to fish in college should definitely consider the Big Blue because of our program — we are continuously growing in all aspects.
Premier Angler: How long has Kentucky’s fishing team been around? Can you share any information on the club’s origins?
Elswick: I am not sure of the exact date of our team’s inaugural season, but Brandon Card, Elite Series Pro, was fishing for us in 2009. He informed me the team had not been together but a couple years before he started fishing for UK.
Premier Angler: That’s still over a decade in existence, giving Kentucky plenty of time to get established among the college ranks. What are some of the benefits and challenges of fishing for a fairly high-profile team at a major university?
Elswick: The Big Blue Nation (BBN) does not just support one sport — they support EVERYTHING UK! We have people reach out to us from across the country all the time and it is awesome to receive their support and share our knowledge with them.
Now, being at a large University is not always ideal when it comes to the university helping fund your team. Normally, teams like us and other SEC schools are “club sports” and left to build our accounts on our own. We are always fundraising because of this and sometimes it gets difficult to manage when you begin to include coursework.
Thankfully, we have our head coach, Tommy Hall, to help manage this type of stuff for us now!
Premier Angler: How does the school recruit members to the team? What type of promotion, if any, goes into raising awareness about the team on campus, locally, etc.?
Elswick: Historically, we have relied on our social media presence and club sports events to attract members. We cannot offer scholarships as a club, so we cannot really recruit.
Now, Coach Hall reaches out to high school students wanting to fish in college and helps them evaluate their choices and shares what UK has to offer.
Premier Angler: One challenge many college fishing teams face is securing funding. Kentucky seems to have strike deals with a good number of sponsors. How has the team been able to raise funds and secure sponsorships over the years to cover the cost of travel, accommodations, supplies, gear, tackle, boats, etc.?
Elswick: Honestly, we did not strike deals before Coach Hall joined our team. We now have several good networks with companies and this is mainly because of the outreach of Coach Hall.
Coach Hall really tries to develop close ties to companies and interacts with them at the Bassmaster Classic.
Other than this, I reach out to local companies to request support. I have been denied many of times, but also gained valuable support and friendship this way.
Like I mentioned before though, we do have to raise funds. We are now doing some of this through our website, but have originally sold merchandise at local boat shows to build our travel budget.
I think a lot of the time colleges just want to ask and take, but here at UK we ask and provide whatever the company may ask — we want to be continuously involved with the supporters to build strong, lasting partnerships.
Premier Angler: As a follow-up, can you tell us more about any fundraisers and events you host during the year.
Premier Angler: Walk us through the 2020 fishing season — where will your anglers be fishing? What are some individual and team goals this year?
Elswick: We are going to primarily be fishing the Carhartt College BASS series and a few Yeti FLW events.
Expect to see our boats at Lewis-Smith Lake, Lake Hartwell, Lake Cumberland, Kentucky Lake, Lake Guntersville, and Pickwick for the ACA National Championship.
An individual goal for myself is to place in the Top 4 at the BASS National Championship so I can compete in the classic bracket and have a chance at making it to the Classic.
Our team goals for the year are to qualify at least two boats for the BASS National Championship, have a boat qualify for the FLW National Championship, and win the team’s first ever BASS event.
Premier Angler: What advice would you give to someone interested in fishing at the college level and, in particular, for Kentucky?
Elswick: Have and maintain a strong character at all times — you never know when someone or a camera is watching. Be honest with yourself and do not try to become a “TV replica angler.”
Know what you are confident in and your style of fishing. If you want to fish at the college level and be successful, you must get out on the water — there is no excuse for not putting in the time.
High school anglers, the biggest difference between high school and college fishing is having the ability to locate your own fish and be confident in your on the water decisions. You do not have someone on your boat to reassure your decision.
As far as Kentucky, we look to have anglers who are dedicated, hardworking, cooperative, and trustworthy.
Premier Angler: Throughout the year, what are some of the most popular fishing spots near campus? What type of preparation goes into improving as an individual anglers are as a competitive team?
Elswick: To be honest, it is hard to fish urban sidewalks, but I am pretty sure Kash Daniel knows some secret sauce on some golf courses he keeps to himself!
Most of the guys on the team travel down to Herrington Lake to fish and practice, and it is about 40 minutes from campus. Other than Herrington, we make the drive down to Lake Cumberland a lot.
We do prep for tournaments and pairings in the fall through a team qualifier series. We fish four randomized lakes in the state that are 2 hours or less to Lexington, and this allows new guys to fish with some of the experienced anglers and let them find out who they fish best with so we create the most competitive teams for the spring.
As for myself, when I cannot get on the water I do a serious amount of lake/map studying on google earth with Navionics pulled up as well.
You can find more information about the team at the official University of Kentucky Bass Fishing website.