When the University of Central Florida’s fishing team of Miles “Sonar” Burghoff and Casey O’Donnell won the 2011 BoatUS Collegiate Bass Fishing Championship on Lake Lewisville, they had reached the pinnacle of college bass fishing. They won the nation’s most prestigious college fishing event and topped the largest field of collegiate anglers ever assembled. For many, this would be defined as that special “One Shining Moment” in a lifetime of bass fishing competition. Thanks to the partnership between the Association of Collegiate Anglers (ACA) and The Bass Federation (TBF), it turned out to only be the start of a special journey for both of them.
They took the time to join the TBF prior to the Championship, which made them eligible for the TBF contingency program tied to the event. A simple $35 investment into TBF membership by each angler allowed them to walk off the collegiate stage and into the arena of national competition. Their TBF bonus was automatic qualification for the TBF National Championship. As team captain, Miles advanced as a boater. His partner, Casey O’Donnell, advanced as a non-boater to the same TBF National Championship, which took place last week on Bull Shoals.
Both students had a great time in the national spotlight, caught some fish, and were impressed with the event. According to Casey, “My fishing didn’t turn out as well as I had hoped, but talk about an awesome event…wow. We had the opportunity to meet some of the best anglers from every state and the camaraderie was amazing. Miles and I were treated like kings, and I can’t thank The Bass Federation enough for everything that they did for the anglers. This opportunity and event is something I’ll look back on and cherish for the rest of my life.” Although Casey caught a good keeper each day from the back of the boat, top honors weren’t in the cards for him this year.
Miles on the other hand proved to be a different story. As a boater, he was in control of his own destiny and proved he can compete on any level. His three day total of 35-2 left him 3 ounces shy of a three-way tie for first place, a mere quarter pound light of an outright victory. Despite not taking home another Championship title, Miles was thrilled with the performance.
“You know, it is bittersweet for sure. I really wanted that Living the Dream first place package, but I’ve found some comfort in knowing I found the right fish and the right bites to win a tournament of this caliber. My problem was just how thick of cover my fish were in. I lost several fish throughout the event that would have made the difference between first and third, I just couldn’t get them into the boat,” recalled Miles.
“I was flipping the heart of thick flooded bushes. When you do that you’re going to catch some and lose some, unfortunately a couple I really needed just wouldn’t come out for me. That final day I moved into some new more sparse cover in hopes of having more success at boating them and it paid off. The final day was my best because I was able to land what bit,” he added. Miles brought in one of only two final day limits and made a serious run at the title, but fell just short this year.
Although the Federation National Championship has come and gone, the journey continues for Miles. His third place finish won the Northwest Division, thereby making him the top finisher in his division and a guaranteed boater for the 2012 BFL All American on the Potomac River May 17-19. The All American is another no entry fee championship, with a total purse of approximately 1 million dollars. Known to have fierce competitors from across the country, and a $100,000 top prize, it is sure to be a test of this collegiate champion.
There will be no time to rest before shifting back to collegiate competition again. He and Casey will be in Florence, Alabama May 23-25 to defend their titles as the BoatUS Collegiate Bass Fishing Champions. You can bet they’ll be current members of The Bass Federation in hopes of taking this exciting ride through bass fishing once again.