provided by John Phillips
One of Mossy Oak’s basic tenets is to help young people learn about and grow in their outdoor endeavors. Along with Bassmaster, Mossy Oak has sponsored bass fishing tournaments for the Junior Series (young people that includes students from 2nd to 8th grade), the High School Series and the College Series. These tournaments give students educational opportunities to learn to bass fish, be coached in bass fishing and know how to compete and work with pros and fishing tackle companies to later gain entry into the fishing industry. Just as in team sports, these dedicated young anglers now have a direct pathway to reach their dreams through these established channels. Mossy Oak is helping these young people live their best lives outdoors by sponsoring tournaments and awarding trophies, money and scholarships to the winning fishing teams.
Everyone knows that deep, clear Lewis Smith Lake in north Alabama is one of the toughest lakes in the nation to fish and also has some of the cleanest water found anywhere. Primarily a spotted bass lake, during the winter months, Smith Lake is fished for those spots, often caught at 40-60 feet. That’s the knowledge that most of the collegiate bass fishermen used this year while fishing the Bassmaster College Series, sponsored by Carhartt, Mossy Oak and others, at Smith Lake, prior to the beginning of the 2020 Bassmaster Classic.
While all the other contestants fished deep, two young men from southern Illinois - Ethan Jones and Andrew Althoff from McKendree University - fished shallow and won by catching largemouths. Both these young men are scholarship athletes at McKendree. When Mossy Oak asked Jones why he chose this university out of the five scholarship offers he’d received, he answered, “McKendree offered a major I wanted to study - environmental science – and I wanted to pursue a career in conservation and forestry to leave the woods and the waters better than how I’d found them. I realized its fishing team was very good, and I personally knew the coach.”
Jones started fishing at age 2 and fished his first tournament when he was 12 years old. The high school he went to was a small Catholic school that had just begun offering a secondary education program. Only 30 students were in his freshman class, and the school fielded no bass fishing team. But those facts didn’t stop Jones. When he couldn’t find anyone who wanted to participate on a fishing team, he decided to be a one-man show. After filling out all the paperwork, getting sanctioned and registering with Bassmaster, he fished solo for the next 4 years as his high school’s bass fishing team. During this time, he met the coach from a rival high school, who today is his coach at McKendree.
We wanted to know how Jones could fish as much as he does today while in college and keep his grades up.
“As long as I manage my time well, get my assignments and communicate with my professors, balancing my education and fishing hasn’t been that difficult. I take my computer with me on all my trips, and regardless of how tired I may be, I do homework every night when I’m away from school. Then I can catch up, if I’ve been away for a weekend or sometimes up to two weeks for tournament fishing.”
A college junior now, Jones’s goal in life is to be a professional fisherman. Getting a degree in conservation and forestry is his back-up plan, if he can’t pay the bills as a professional bass angler.
Ethan Jones’s partner at the collegiate tournament, Andrew Althoff, a senior, caught the biggest bass of the Smith Lake tournament - a largemouth weighing 5 pounds, 14 ounces. Althoff competed in high school bass fishing tournaments, and during his high school junior year competed in the state tournament - the same tournament Ethan Jones won.
According to Althoff, “Half the field at that tournament didn’t bring in a bass that would measure. We were one of those 33 boats that failed to bring a fish to the scales. My partner and I each had 4-pounders on our lines but couldn’t get them in the boat. If we had landed those bass, we would have been in good shape for at least a top-10 finish. I met the coach at McKendree University at this state fishing tournament. He gave me his card and said, ‘When you’re looking at colleges that you may want to attend, call me.’”
As a senior in high school, Althoff researched colleges with fishing teams that he might want to attend. He called the coach at McKendree and also listened to the scholarship offers that he had from six different universities. “I got accepted to all those universities but chose McKendree because I knew the coach. Too, McKendree offered me the largest scholarship of any of the six schools.”
Today Althoff is a biology major and is considering fisheries research, if his professional bass-fishing hopes don’t work out. “I’m going to do my best to become a professional fisherman. That’s really my main goal.”
When Mossy Oak asked Jones and Althoff how they won this collegiate event on this tough bass lake held just before the 2020 Bassmaster Classic, Althoff explained, “I think we were one of the only teams in the tournament who were fishing only for largemouths. We found these bass, which tend to be bigger than smallmouths, in the backs of creeks in 3-5 feet of water. The deepest bass we caught that we weighed in were in 10-12 feet of water. We caught 13 bass during the tournament, and all but one were largemouths. I caught the largest fish in the tournament on a Z-Man chatterbait with a black-and-red skirt. We also fished some flipping baits. Ethan was flipping a Gene Larew ring tube, and I was flipping a Strike King Rage Craw.