SIU anglers have sights set on national college tournament

SIU anglers have sights set on college national tournament

MARION, IL (KFVS) - A pair of successful anglers at Southern Illinois University are hoping to turn their love of fishing into a career.

Competitive bass fishing on a professional level has been around for more than 50 years.

But just within the last decade it's growing in popularity in high schools and colleges around the country, offering avid anglers new opportunities.

Kyle Wagner and Mason Bishop are two of SIU's top anglers.

As a team this season, the two qualified for the Fishing League Worldwide College Fishing National Tournament.

"It's definitely the dream," Wagner said.

They finished fourth out of 62 teams this past May at an FLW Conference Tournament at Lake Barkley, Kentucky.

The two combined to catch five bass weighing 15 pounds, 2 ounces with their biggest fishing coming on the last cast of day.

"To us it's a sport," Bishop said.

Wagner, a Waterloo native, serves as president of the Saluki Bassers.

"We have around 18 members and it's growing every year," he said.

SIU angler participation follows a growing trend nationally.

A 2011 survey from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service revealed there are 27.5 million freshwater anglers that spend $25.7 billion on fishing trips and equipment each year.

What separates anglers like Wagner and Bishop from others is their competitive drive - even when the fishing is tough.

"It's very demanding," Wagner said. "You lose a lot of your weekends, weekends that you can go back home. You lose those weekends to go fishing, which isn't really a bad thing, we love fishing."

Both attended high school in Illinois and are part of a growing class of anglers that started competing at a young age.

Bishop, who is from Goreville, unknowingly competed against his current teammate at region tournaments in high school.

Illinois is one of several states that now recognizes bass fishing as an official high school sport, which gives anglers like Wagner and Bishop an opportunity to test the waters before moving on.

"Obviously I wanted to choose the college with my major, environmental engineering, but at the same time I wanted to make sure they had a good fishing program," Wagner said.

Now the two SIU students are set to compete against the top 165 collegiate teams around the country next March.

"It give us a lot of experience and gives an opportunity to meet sponsors that can sponsor us later," Bishop said

Both anglers hope to turn fish into paychecks and a full time job.

"I'm going to try and make it in professional fishing," Wagner said. "That's something I really want to do. Whether I'll be able to I don't know, but I'm putting all my best efforts towards it."

The dates and location of the FLW College National Tournament have not yet been announced.

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