The Polk State College Bass Fishing Team is Florida’s top group of college anglers and members continue to receive national attention for their skills – and hair – on the water.
Trever Stephens’ third-place recognition for Best Hair from the Fishing League Worldwide (FLW) 2019 YETI College Fishing Championship aside, Polk State is currently sixth in the southeastern division of the FLW College series – the highest ranked school in Florida. Additionally, the team won the Bassmaster State Championship in 2018 and was runner up in 2019.
The team of Polk State students and alumni is dedicated to their angler activities, with many teammates aspiring to pursue careers in fishing – whether it’s going pro or starting a business in the industry.
“The key thing we have learned through this experience is patience,” said Kyle Stafford, Bachelor of Applied Science in Supervision and Management student. “That goes beyond fishing and translates into all areas of our lives, like many of the skills we continue to develop as members of the team.”
“The key thing we have learned through this experience is patience. That goes beyond fishing and translates into all areas of our lives, like many of the skills we continue to develop as members of the team.”
— Kyle Stafford
Polk State Bass Fishing Team member
Fishing has instilled in Stafford and his peers humility, the ability to network and budget effectively, and the importance of always having a backup plan.
For those who want to go pro, Polk State gives students the opportunity to compete at state, regional, and national levels that get them recognized by bigger leagues while also providing the resources they need to achieve degrees.
Associate in Arts student Jacob Eaton moved from his hometown of Fort Myers to attend Polk State because of the prestige of the Bass Fishing Team.
“All the way in Fort Myers, I was hearing about Polk State’s Bass Fishing Team – it has had a lot of exposure and success,” he explained, “and it is the closest established college team to my hometown.”
The level of exposure has ramped up quickly, with the team heading into its seventh year touting many wins and accomplishments. Members have competed all over the country, including Washington, D.C., Oklahoma, and Alabama.
“It’s an amazing opportunity to get out of your home waters and comfort zone, and break new ground in different locations,” said Associate in Arts student Justin Bun.
The team has maintained momentum with charter members continuing to participate after graduation and younger anglers breathing new life into the group, fostering mentorship and comradery that has elevated the Student Activities and Leadership Office (SALO)-sanctioned club to identify truly as a team.
“We’re a tight-knit community,” Associate in Arts student Evan Wieber said. “You build strong relationships with your teammates because fishing is unlike other sports in that we are technically competing with each other on the water, but we don’t think about it like that – we all try to help one another.”
The team is sanctioned through the North American Tournament Association, allowing the anglers to participate in both FLW and Bassmaster events, in which they compete in pairs.
“A win for any of us is a win for Polk State,” Stafford explained. “That’s what’s important – the team.”
Their sportsmanship has paid off.
Stafford and Austin Bell tied with Stephens and Jerod Gadd in the FLW 2019 YETI College Fishing Championship on the Potomac River in Maryland, ranking 47 and 46, respectively, out of 148 competitors with both Polk State duos reeling in 24 pounds, 3 ounces each.
Bell, a founding member of the Polk State team, achieved his Bachelor of Science in Supervision and Management; Gadd achieved his Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice; and Stephens is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Supervision and Management.
“The team has helped me grow not only as an angler but also as a man. Doing something we are so passionate about and giving it all we’ve got has really taught me how to be the best I can be and I’m excited to see what we can accomplish.”
— Trent Coleman
Polk State Bass Fishing Team member
Stephens and teammate Trent Coleman, a Bachelor of Applied Science in Supervision and Management student, have already secured a spot in the FLW 2020 YETI College Fishing Championship alongside Wieber and Eaton.
Eaton called the sport a “mental game” that has allowed him and his teammates to grow personally and professionally.
“The team has helped me grow not only as an angler but also as a man,” Coleman added. “Doing something we are so passionate about and giving it all we’ve got has really taught me how to be the best I can be and I’m excited to see what we can accomplish.”
They are hopeful the 10-member team will continue to grow, too, as they actively recruit anglers and sponsors.
The team meets the third Tuesday of each month during the fall and spring semesters, alternating between the Winter Haven and Lakeland campuses. Students who are interested in joining should email email@example.com.