Bass fishing team aims for three-peat

UNA bass fishermen (from left to right) Andrew Tate, Makenzie Henson, Sloan Pennington and Caleb Dennis come up with a fishing strategy at McFarland Park April 4. Henson, Pennington and Dennis, along with Triston Crowden, placed first at the 2016 Cabela’s Collegiate Bass Fishing Open. Tate and partner Dawson Lenz finished fifth in a national championship event in South Carolina March 17-19.

Many students start organizations and clubs on campus, but not as many maintain success with little help.

The UNA bass fishing team is the only college team to win back-to-back Cabela’s School of the Year honors. The club has been 100 percent student-run since its establishment about a decade ago, said senior Andrew Tate, the team’s social media coordinator.

“We are one of the only schools that doesn’t have a coach,” Tate said. “Our adviser is (UNA Vice President) David Shields, but he doesn’t really have to advise us much. We kind of take care of everything on our own, and to be honest with you, I like it that way. It makes us more responsible.”

Tate said many teams have an adviser or administrator who prepays for the team’s hotels or makes equipment purchases, but Shields lets the students operate the entire club.

“We do it all on our own,” Tate said. “(Shields) will come and sit in on our meetings and he’ll check in on us, but I think he’s realized by now over the last few years that we can take care of ourselves.”

Whatever the team is doing must work, as the team of Makenzie Henson, Caleb Dennis, Sloan Pennington and Triston Crowden collected a first-place finish at the 2016 Cabela’s Collegiate Bass Fishing Open on Lake Dardanelle in Russellville, Arkansas, two weeks ago.

In addition, Tate and his partner, senior Dawson Lenz, took home a top 10 finish at the Fishing League Worldwide National Championship Tournament at Lake Keowee in South Carolina March 17-19.

Tate said placing high in tournaments and winning Cabela’s School of the Year helps bring in money and equipment to maintain the club.

“Last year, Cabela’s sent us probably $1,500 to $2,000 worth of stuff apiece,” Tate said.

While earning money in tournaments helps keep the budget afloat, the team continues to grow in members as well. Lenz, from Peachtree City, Georgia, said his primary reason for coming to UNA was for its bass fishing team.

“When I was a freshman, we only had like seven or eight guys on the team,” Lenz said. “Everybody on the team at that point was locals. Since then, now that I’m a senior, we have over 40 members. It has grown tremendously.”

Tate and Lenz said the team’s exposure comes through word-of-mouth, which has reached internationally.

“As of last year, we had a guy come from Japan just to be on the fishing team at UNA,” Lenz said. “We have guys from Illinois, Japan and I have another buddy from Georgia who I grew up fishing with who’s a freshman this year. It’s a huge deal, and I hope it keeps growing after I leave.”

Lenz said having multiple lakes close by leaves the team no excuses to neglect practicing.

“We have that luxury of having the Tennessee River close to the house,” Lenz said. “It’s just a huge advantage. You have guys (at other universities) that haven’t been fishing in the past week or two, and it will take them a couple of days to figure things out.”

Henson, a Rogersville native, said being a member of UNA’s bass fishing team is a sportsman’s paradise.

“We have Wheeler, Wilson and Pickwick (lakes) right here in our own backyard,” Henson said. “I live about five minutes from Wheeler and 10 minutes from Wilson. What more could you ask for?”