CEDAR FALLS — It’s not all about lectures, textbooks and final exams for a growing group of students at the University of Northern Iowa.
Now and then, it’s about fishing, too.
From aspiring teachers, accountants and business CEOs to musicians, writers and artists, the UNI Fishing Club is doing its part to enhance the college experience in an untraditional way with opportunities for personal growth, teamwork and networking through fishing.
The club began in 2016 when Jack Mauer and Conner Hinckle became UNI students. They were part of a bass fishing club at Janesville High School and along with Ethan Butler shared a vision for a similar club at the college level.
Today, there are 31 members of the UNI Fishing Club, including four female anglers.
“A lot of the bread and butter of the club is local stuff,” explained Brady Determan of Camanche, who came on board in 2017. “It’s going fishing around here and having club tournaments where it’s just members competing or meeting up to go fishing with other people in the club.
“We have a lot of seminars and guest speakers come in and talk to the club. I’d say the main thing right now is learning new ideas about fishing new techniques and then putting them into practice throughout the semester.”
The club also provides a foundation for anglers to compete on a regional and even national stage.
Mauer and Hinckle are fishing six to eight major collegiate tournaments a year and have dreams of someday qualifying for the Collegiate Bassmasters, Bassmaster Classic or the FLW Forest Wood Cup.
“I didn’t come to college to be a bass fisherman,” says Hinckle. “If I can win a few tournaments it might turn out that way, but that’s a Plan B.
“What inspired me was just watching the pros on TV. I have that passion for fishing. The competitive part of it is something that drives me, too. You want to be the best.”
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“I just love bass fishing, too,” adds Mauer. “I enjoy getting out there and getting involved more on the competitive side and seeing what we can do to grow a team at UNI and be successful.”
Given the expense, time commitment and equipment needed to compete at a high level, tournaments aren’t for everyone. Mauer and Hinckle are currently the only UNI club anglers fishing major tournaments, although at least two other club members are about to join them.
“It’s hard to find bass guys who want to go do tournaments and have the equipment to be able to go and do it,” notes Hinckle.
It’s also a challenge to compete on new bodies of water against anglers with a decided advantage. While there are 15 to 20 teams from a handful of colleges and universities that compete in Iowa’s state tournament, there typically are 80-plus in southern state tourneys.
“We just experienced that at Lake Cumberland (in Tennessee),” says Hinckle. “We’re not used to those deep southern lakes where shallow water is like 20 feet. It definitely puts you at a disadvantage, but also the more of those lakes we go to the better we get.
“Our first tournament ever in college was at Lake of the Ozarks. We finished like 86th out of 100-some teams. We returned the next year and placed 45th. And when the tournaments come to our waters, like Prairie du Chien, we show our advantage. In that tournament, we were ninth out of 124.”
Generating sponsorships and finding funds is an ongoing challenge for the club. UNI is helping a little, as are companies like Eco Pro Tungsten, Denali Rods and Googan Baits with product discounts and incentives for high tournament finishes. Club members who finish in the money at tournaments share that revenue with the club.
There are fundraisers that help, too. One of those will take place Saturday, April 27, from 8 to 11 a.m. when the club hosts its second annual Pancake Breakfast at Threehouse: A Wesley Foundation located at 2422 College St. in Cedar Falls.
Overall, Mauer is pleased with what the club has brought to UNI.
“We knew there were a lot of people here who like to fish and stuff,” he says. “I think it (the current membership) goes to show that there are a lot of opportunities for fishing around here and around the university with the river and all the lakes here.
“I’m not really surprised (by the club’s growth), but I think it’s a good number for our club and probably a sustainable number.”