Hokie Bass Team Qualifies For MLF National Championship

by Chris McCotter

By C.C. McCotter

This month we caught up with members of the Hokie Bass Fishing Team to find out how they managed to qualify for the Major League Fishing College National Championship (they sent a single team to the Harris Chain qualifier).

   Balancing a vigorous academic schedule with tournament bass fishing is a difficult task that today’s college bass team members face. On top of that challenge is the never-ending attempt to raise enough money so that club members have the funds to cover lodging, meals and fuel to travel to tournaments held all over the country. And what college student actually owns a 21’ bass boat?

   These are the issues that face the Virginia Tech Bass Fishing Team and others around the country. Interestingly, the smaller, private schools often have better funded and supported teams, while larger, public institutions like Virginia Tech actually have college fishing teams sputter along on minimal funding.

    Dan Weber and Mitchell McCotter are seniors on Team Hokie Bass. They have some big shoes to fill, as some years back (2007), Scott Wiley and Brett Thompson actually won the National Championship for Virginia Tech. At the time there weren’t quite as many teams in the mix (35 colleges then vs. 70+ now) but it still stands as a major accomplishment and follow-up goal. Wiley was actually the founder of the Virginia Tech Bass Fishing Team and first president (the same year he won championship).

   “For 2024, our goals are to qualify at least five teams for either the MLF or BASS National Championships, send a minimum of one team to every collegiate tournament and to finish top 25 in the School of the Year Rankings,” McCotter told W2 about the teams’ goals. 

  Weber is a marketing major. McCotter is majoring in fisheries biology. The two seniors recently finished 13th out of 225 teams on the Harris Chain of lakes located just south of Orlando. Neither had ever fished there and they made sure to spend three, long days practicing prior to the one-day tournament.

   “We fished Lake Griffin, Lake Harris, Lake Eustis, Lake Dora and Lake Apopka hard. That tournament had a loaded field of 225 boats filled with many well-known, successful college anglers. The fish weren’t quite to the point of spawning where it could be a tournament pattern, so Dan and I had to go offshore in search of schools of prespawn fish. Water temps were in the low 60s in pretty much all of the lakes, and after a challenging three days of practice, we decided on Lake Griffin for tournament day. 

  “We found the highest volume of fish (not size) on Lake Griffin on our first day of practice, but if we caught 10 fish in that spot, five of them were less than 12 inches. Fast forward to tournament day, getting from our launch in Big Harris to Lake Griffin took about an hour-and-a half as we had to go through one lock which held nine total boats. Once we got into Griffin, we set up on our offshore grass spot in about 5-6 feet of water, with this grass bed mainly having eel grass and hydrilla mixed in. 

  “Our bait of choice was a cuttail worm, with the technique being a slow drag along the bottom, pulling it through the grass stalk by stalk and anticipating a bite. We found more size in the spot on tournament day (thankfully), with the two biggest fish in our bag being a 4.5 and a 3.5, so we were feeling better about our chances. Our weigh in was scheduled for 3:45, so we left Griffin at around 1:45, making sure to leave some time in case the lock took longer than expected. 

   “Fast forward to weigh in, I was happily surprised to see 14-13 flash on the digital scale once we put our bag up there, as I was only expecting 11-12 pounds for our efforts. This weight was good enough for 13th out of 225boats, qualifying us for the 2024 MLF National Championship, with the location yet to be announced.”

    During the practice week and tournament, the team was followed by the Woods & Waters Facebook page and the amount of support and encouragement they received was impressive. The posts reached thousands of well-wishers. 

  Fresh off that high finish, Weber and McCotter decided to attend the Richmond Fishing Expo in mid-January and see if they could raise some funds for the club selling Hokie Bass apparel.

  “We were blown away by the amount of Tech alumni that attended the show and were supportive. They loved the caps and shirts. We hadn’t sold anything since 2019 so there was some pent-up demand and we raised about a third of what the university funds us each year from the sales and donations,” McCotter, who is also club treasurer, noted.

  “Having the opportunity to represent the Hokie Bass Team this past weekend at the Richmond Fishing Expo was an absolute blast, we were able to meet so many supporters, connect with past team members like Brett Thompson and David Bryant, and see many happy faces after purchasing our team gear. Woods and Waters was very hospitable allowing us to share a booth over the weekend as well. We appreciate all the good luck wishes for the upcoming season and look forward to putting up some high finishes this year!”

  The Wednesday following the fishing expo, the team hitched up Weber’s Triton Tr21 with a 250 Mercury OptiMax and headed to South Carolina’s Lake Murray to see if they could qualify for the BASS College Championship. By the time you read this, that tournament will have been long over, but the club still welcomes your support at any level.

   “The most difficult obstacle to overcome in respect to fishing these collegiate tournaments is getting the funds to send as many teams as possible to as many tournaments as possible. For college fishing, the landscape is almost to the point where you are pretty much only as good as your bank account in regards to sending teams to tournaments. Unlike many of the smaller college fishing schools, we do not receive ample funding from the school – so that is our biggest obstacle.”

   McCotter noted anyone interested in making a donation to the team can!

  “In order to raise money for the team, this year we are leaving no stone unturned. After the Expo we are working to connect with our prestigious alumni network of great fisherman, who in the past have supported us. We host a few other fundraising events with the team each year, like selling apparel at other sports games or even going as far as selling grilled cheeses on the downtown street on a Saturday night. 

   “In order to donate to and support the team, we are working to provide a clickable link that someone can directly donate to, but in the meantime, our Venmo is “VT_Bass” and we also accept checks made out to The Bass Fishing Team at Virginia Tech – any support is much appreciated. We will also be debuting a “Hokie Bass Bites” Newsletter in early February that will have the inside scoop on all of the local fisheries, hot baits of the month, special angler spotlight and more – and it will have a donation link embedded into it. 

  “To sign up for the newsletter, email mitch14@vt.edu with your name, phone number and email and you will be set! As stated before, any and all donations would go directly to sending our teams to tournaments for this upcoming season – hotel bookings, gas money, food for tournaments, etc.” 

     As far as prospective Hokie Bass Team members, here’s what McCotter had to say about why a student would want to choose Virginia Tech…

  “You should want to join the Bass Fishing Team at Virginia Tech because of our rich history. Winning the national championship in our first year of existence shows the grit and drive to succeed that you must have to be on the fishing team here, and it is an honor to be a part of it. We offer a unique opportunity to build your own personal brand at a big-name school, something that many other colleges in the college fishing landscape cannot offer. As recent as the 2021 season, we finished ranked #2 overall in School of the Year Rankings, something we are proud of, but not satisfied with. If you want to fish and compete at a high level, be set up for tournament success and have great bonds with your college fishing team, we are the place for you.”

  Requirements for membership for the team include the student being in good standing with VT (2.2 GPA or more and no disciplinary actions against) and to have a legitimate passion for the sport. 

  Vice President Dan Weber noted, “We strive to have everyone on the team to be highly competitive and eager to represent VT. There are many benefits to the team, including the ability to fish in highly regarded college circuits put on by BASS and MLF, the ability to build one’s own brand through tournament success and support from the school, and we also have an awesome list of big time sponsors (Lowrance, Tackle Warehouse, Rapala, etc) that support us.”

  “I joined the fishing team here in large part because I had known about and followed the team for a while, and I wanted to be a part of something bigger than me. I wanted to go to a school where I could get a great academic experience for my major (Freshwater Fish Conservation) and where I could fish at the highest possible level, and Virginia Tech checked both boxes,” noted McCotter.

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