While their classmates worry about spring formals and graduation ceremonies, University of Central Florida students Miles “Sonar” Burghoff and Casey O’Donnell will be in Arkansas, fishing for an opportunity to take their angling careers to the next level.
By virtue of being members of The Bass Federation (TBF), the two students qualified for the upcoming TBF Federation National Championship on Bull Shoals Reservoir when they won the Collegiate Bass Fishing Championship on Lake Lewisville in Texas last May. The TBF championship is a no entry fee tournament, presented by the National Guard, with a payout of nearly a quarter of a million dollars in cash and prizes. The Association of Collegiate Anglers (ACA) and TBF have been partners since the formation of the ACA and this opportunity provides one more “carrot” for young anglers looking to make a name for themselves in the sport.
Burghoff and O’Donnell were both TBF members, fishing in local clubs, but their participation in the collegiate ranks gave them a second bite at the apple, so to speak. In fact, Burghoff had planned to try to qualify for the TBF Championship through his bass club, but didn’t need to fish the qualifier once he’d made it at Lewisville. Both intend to make a run at fishing professionally after graduation and both say that fishing at the college level helped them in ways that no other circuit could.
“It strengthened my confidence,” Burghoff said. “It’s a great stepping stone, a very inexpensive way to gain experience. It takes financial risk out of the equation.”
“The way I look at it is that it’s a tryout for the pros,” O’Donnell said. “If you can dominate at this level then you may have what it takes.”
The pair spent eight days over the recent spring break not on the Florida beaches or at some Caribbean resort, but rather in northern Arkansas pre-practicing for the tournament. They both declared themselves satisfied with the results and confident in their chances, even though they will likely be competing against anglers many years their senior, and perhaps with decades more experience.
Burghoff, who will fish the tournament as a boater, is keen to win the Living the Dream prize package – a fully-rigged Ranger Boat, Chevrolet truck, and paid entry fees and travel stipends for one year on the FLW Tour. The winner of the event on both the boater and non-boater sides of the equation will also earn an automatic berth into the Forrest Wood Cup, another no entry fee event with a total payout of over two million dollars. There are also slots in the BFL All American tournament at stake, so a strong performance could more than jumpstart a young angler’s career.
During practice, O’Donnell, who will fish on the non-boater side of the event, tried to develop techniques that he felt would work for someone in the back of the boat. He encouraged Burghoff to fish aggressively so he “could really judge what (he) would be catching” behind a talented angler. While neither student would disclose how he intends to fish, both stated that they feel comfortable on Bull Shoals. “It’s very similar topographically to lakes I fished at home in California like Oroville and Shasta,” Burghoff said. “It’s a very healthy lake, with a ton of 2- to 3-pound fish.”
While the Central Florida anglers will be the first to make it to the TBF Championship this way, ideally they won’t be the last. If the winning team of the 2012 BoatU.S. Collegiate Bass Fishing
Championship has both members registered as current TBF members, that team will once again move on to the TBF Federation National Championship as a boater and a non-boater. This year’s championship will take place on Lake Pickwick near Florence, Alabama from May 23 through 25.
According to ACA Program Director Danny Blandford, “I think this is one of the most lucrative programs out there for collegiate anglers, and I want to encourage our participants to take the time to understand it and participate. An angler can fish our BoatU.S. Collegiate Bass Fishing Championship for no charge, pick up a $35 TBF membership which includes an FLW membership, and become eligible for a life-changing opportunity. Given, the fish have to cooperate, and the anglers have to catch them, but that $35 can be parlayed into chances to compete for over 3.25 million dollars in cash and prizes, national exposure, and a chance to compete as a professional bass fisherman as part of the Living the Dream Package on the FLW Tour. It would be a shame to crown the 2012 BoatU.S. National Champions and have their journey end there on the stage because they didn’t take the time join the TBF prior to the event. Although it is a great honor to win our event, and it has launched careers, the more opportunities these students have to compete in these high-caliber events, the more they can get from the overall experience of college bass fishing. With the help of The Bass Federation, we are building a path for young anglers that leads them from high school to the big leagues, and the ACA is proud to be a part of this progression.”