College bass anglers will have a chance to compete for state supremacy during the coming month in north-central Kansas.
The Kansas BASS Nation College State Championship will take place March 28-29 at Wilson Reservoir and will feature college fishing teams from at least two major universities in northeast Kansas.
The tournament is open to any two-man, Kansas-based college fishing team, regardless of the college or university’s size. The winner of the college state title is then eligible to compete on the national stage via the 2020 Bassmaster College Fishing National Championship.
Youth director Travis Burch said that, as of right now, Washburn and K-State were the only two schools with teams in the field, although others were looking to join. For those who are interested, it’s not too late to sign up for the event, which can also be fished by out-of-state teams if their state doesn’t have a qualifier in place.
"I know an angler at KU is looking for a partner, and JCCC," Burch said. "Two kids from Fort Hays State are trying to get a club started."
Multiple teams from Kansas State will be seeking the title after Wildcats Josh Flynn and Zac Hopkins won the event in 2019. Last year’s state championship on Perry Reservoir notably was rescheduled and moved to Council Grove City Lake after heavy flooding conditions caused the entire field to get skunked in the first go-round.
Shawnee product Zach Vielhauer, the 2018 Bassmaster College Classic champion alongside Texas native Will Andrie, will be among the K-State anglers seeking the state title.
"I am really looking forward to that event," Vielhauer said. "It is our closest opportunity to qualify for the BASS College National Championship."
Vielhauer has fished the BASS National Championship in the past at Tenkiller Lake in Oklahoma. He said the event was a challenge for both himself and his partner, but added he wanted another shot at capturing a fourth national championship title for the K-State fishing program.
"I have never fished Wilson in March, but my partner Michael Mueting and I are up to the challenge," Vielhauer said. "I have fished many tournaments in the colder weather when most people are hunting or staying inside. This helps keep my body used to the elements and I have learned new techniques to use in the cold water.
"My plan is to go out and try and be consistent through the two-day event. The old saying ‘you can't win it the first day but you can sure lose it the first day’ will hold true. We are going to go out and try our best to put five fish in the boat every day and then go from there and make adjustments when needed."
Washburn anglers Thomas Heinen and Jake Brunton will represent Topeka during the state championship. Heinen, a Hayden product, competed at the high school level before starting the Washburn club last year. Brunton, a freshman who graduated from Washburn Rural, replaces Heinen’s former teammate, Ryan Anderson, on the team this year after Anderson graduated.
"I have been looking forward to this event since the weigh-in of last year’s state championship," Heinen said. "This state championship gives us Kansas college anglers a chance to compete at a national level. We all fish it for that reason."
He said the Ichabods had already been looking ahead and planning for the event for quite some time.
"I think Jake and I have a pretty good strategy going into the tournament," Heinen said. "We are going to fish what we know. I think experience on the water is really going to be the key to success in this Kansas college tournament, but I also think if you slow down, look at your surroundings and figure out the little things that matter, that can really help you in the long run."
The state tournament is in just its third year after the Bassmaster College Series changed its regionals format to allow states to hold their own qualifiers for the national championship tournament in 2017. The championship system as it is now was put in place under then-youth director Richard Heflin, prior to Burch taking over this fall.
Burch said he would like to see the number of schools participating in the event continue to grow so the Kansas BASS Nation could host more college events.
"Right now, K-State represents more than 70 percent of the teams each year," Burch said.
Burch also noted the KBN college series already has a good number of sponsors in place, including his company, K-Guard Leaf Free Guttering, as well as Wholesale Batteries, BallzOut Mounts, Bustin Lips Baits, KastKing and DW Creative Marketing. He said he would like to get even more sponsors in to attract more anglers to the event.
For more information on the Kansas BASS Nation’s college, high school and youth series, contact Burch at 913-562-4660 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bassmaster Classic next week
The Super Bowl of Bass Fishing is coming up next week, and much like this year’s Big Game, the Midwest has a dog in this fight.
The 2020 Bassmaster Classic will run from March 6-8 at Lake Guntersville in Birmingham, Ala., one of the top bass fishing destinations in the nation. The event will mark the 50th time the Classic has been fished, and the third at Guntersville.
This year’s 53-angler Classic field features a few big names in the sport, such as Minnesota native Seth Feider and Texas native Keith Combs. But it isn’t as star-studded as in years past, with notable omissions such as Kevin VanDam, Mike Iaconelli, Jordan Lee and last year’s winner, Ott DeFoe.
That means odds are good that a brand new mug will emerge as the face of bass fishing in 2020, and it could signal the beginning of a new youth movement in the sport.
One of the more interesting prospects comes from right here in the Midwest. Cody Huff, a native of Ava, Mo., qualified for the Classic via the 2019 Carhartt College Classic Bracket. (As an interesting side note, Ava is the city where the rainbow trout that are stocked in Topeka’s Lake Shawnee are farmed, with fishing reopening to the public on Saturday morning at that lake.)
During his time at Bethel University in Tennessee — not to be confused with Bethel College in Newton, Kan. — Huff and his teammates have shined as one of the elite squads in college fishing.
Huff and partner Garrett Enders won the 2018 Bassmaster College Series National Championship on Lake Tenkiller, Okla., totaling 41 pounds, 6 ounces. They also finished third with a bag of 55-2 in the 2019 Bassmaster College Series National Championship in Dayton, Tenn., while his Bethel teammates Carter McNeil and Cole Floyd took home the championship with a bag of 59-11.
Pretty gawdy stuff there for a college kid.