By Conor Mihell
Hidden behind the glitz and televised thrills of college football and basketball is the little known fact that some U.S. schools have their own bass fishing teams. The trouble is, few colleges—let along college students—can afford their own bass boats, so the sport is hardly inclusive. Enter Drew Gregory, a professional kayak angler and event organizer from Charlotte, N.C., who is developing a college angling series that promises a new Final Four—in fishing kayaks.
"It makes sense for students to get involved in this sport," says Gregory, a Jackson Kayak-sponsored angler who previously founded the River Bassin' Tournament Trail, which quickly grew to be the largest paddle-powered fishing series in the world before ending in 2011. "There are thousands of college students who like to fish. Now every school, big or small, can participate without spending a lot of money."
Currently, Gregory is accepting registrations for College Kayak Fishing's inaugural season, which will get underway in February. He's sweetening the pot with a sweepstakes offering over $4,000 in prizes from more than 10 sponsors for registrants. Gregory is hoping for 20 to 30 teams to "come out of the woodwork" for the 2013 season. The cost of registration is $250 per team.
Gregory says his fishing series will be modeled after college football and basketball. Teams will be divided into divisions, with separate saltwater and freshwater categories. Organizers will put together a schedule of "tournaments" in which two to four teams will compete on an assigned body of water over the course of a weekend. "Tri and quad matches will save time and allow teams to knock off two or three head-to-heads in a weekend," says Gregory. Divisional rivals will play each other once in the 2013 season.
Teams will be allowed five anglers for each tournament, and scoring will be made using the catch-photo-release model in which teams must upload photos of their catch to a website at the end of the tournament. League officials will then verify the measurements and tally the total length to determine a winner. At the end of the regular season, teams will proceed to a national tournament and finals, "just like college basketball," says Gregory.
Gregory and co-organizers Brooks Beatty and Stewart Venable hope this year's pilot series will generate enough interest to spark a longer 2013-14 season, which would start in October and include a "winter break" to avoid freezing temperatures. Gregory says the timing couldn't be better for the final tournament in early May, when "some of the best fishing is happening all around the country."