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.
According to Ethan Jones of McKendree University’s College Bass Fishing Team:
“One of my bass fishing inspirations has been my boat captain Bryan Helm. He took me to my very first tournament when I was 12 years old. He’s probably about 50 years old now. Bryan loved to fish tournaments, and when his fishing partner couldn’t go to a tournament with him, Bryan would call my dad and ask him to be his partner for the tournament. When we were younger, my brother raced Quarter Midget miniature cars, and my parents always went to his races. So, one weekend when Bryan needed a partner and couldn’t find anyone else to fish with him, Dad said that I might like to join Bryan. Bryan agreed. Once he realized how much I enjoyed tournament fishing, he started coaching me from the first day I got into his boat. We’ve fished many tournaments together since then.
“Bryan was not only my boat captain. He was also my team coach. He was a true mentor who helped me learn the craft of bass fishing. Even though my dad liked to fish and was a good angler, he knew that Bryan was a better fisherman. Before I received the scholarship at McKendree, I talked to Bryan and asked him if he would be my boat captain and coach. Bryan had told me even before I started a high school team that if I wanted to try and become a pro, he would captain for me and coach me as long as I needed him.
“When I was still in high school, Bryan sold me his fiberglass boat, and that’s the boat that Andrew Althoff and I fished out of at the Bassmaster College Series Smith Lake tournament on February 28, 2020. Of course, Bryan was our boat captain. The way our sectionals worked my sophomore year, they took the top-15 teams in each section to compete for the Illinois State Championship. There were 23 different sectionals, and I finished second in the state my freshman year of high school. My coach now at McKendree, John Render, also had a team from Highland High School competing. His team beat me by 1 pound. My sophomore year of high school, I won the State Championship fishing against 66 boats with two anglers per boat, except for me. I qualified again for the state my junior year and finished sixth.
“Coach Render started talking to me my freshman year about what I wanted to do with my fishing. That year, there were 28 teams fishing and only four limits of bass caught in the tournament. I was one of them, so Coach Render took notice. Once I won the State Championship the next year, he spent even more time talking to me. We became good friends when I was in high school and was fishing against the school where he coached.
“When Coach Render retired from his high-school job, he already had fallen in love with coaching young people to bass fish. So, he volunteered to coach at McKendree College when the school started a bass fishing team. I applied to five or six colleges to fish on their teams. Coach Render had given me his business card. He told me to call him when I started looking at schools, and that he’d like to have me on his fishing team. Once I looked at all the colleges to which I had been accepted, I decided to go to McKendree, mainly due to my relationship with Coach Render and the fact that McKendree offered a curriculum I wanted to study. When I toured the school, I felt at home. I was able to get quite a few academic scholarships there too, besides a really nice fishing scholarship as well.
“With all my scholarships, I’ve been able to go to college for a little less than half of what my expenses would have otherwise been. Because Andrew Althoff and I won the Smith Lake tournament, we got to fish at an exhibition tournament at the 2020 Bassmaster Classic. We had no entry fee, and we couldn’t win any prize money for our team, but we competed on the last day of the Classic. We had our bass weighed, walked across the same stage as all the pros and saw what life was like as a professional fisherman. I got to be in the Humminbird and Minn Kota booths at the Bassmaster Classic show on Saturday because they were my sponsors. On Sunday, I fished at Lay Lake in the Bassmaster College Classic, and Andrew and I finished 9th. Life doesn’t get any better than that.”