College Bassin’ Back in My Day

The front cover of the Bass Fishing Institute manual.

The front cover of the Bass Fishing Institute manual.

If you read and follow any of the major Tours or media outlets covering the sport, you know that college bassing has started to take on a life of its own. When you mention “growing the sport”, this and the high school level is where it’s going to happen. But before the current crop of college level competition came to be, and well before the Bass University (Ike, Gluszek) was around, there were other college bass fishing programs in place, sort of. Here’s a couple I was involved in that were right here in Indiana.

The inside title page of the Bass Fishing Institute manual.

The inside title page of the Bass Fishing Institute manual.

The first on the scene that I can recall was in late 1975 when Bobby and Billy Murray (of Bassmaster fame), along with T.W. Terrill formed the American Institute of Bass Fishing. In its earliest format, it began as a retreat/learning experience that had both “classroom” training as well as on-the-water demonstration. The first two such events held in 1976 occurred on Lake Ouachita (AR) and on Barkley Lake (KY). Participants paid a $350 tuition fee and in return, got to spend 5 days learning from some of the best anglers in the country. That fee also covered your room, 2 meals a day, course materials, instructor’s fees, launching fees and your 5 days of fishing. The instructors list included Bill Dance, Roland Martin, Jerry McKinnis, Tom Mann and Classic Champion Bobby Murray.

Around 1980 or so, the format changed into one where they could take the classes on the road, and Indiana State University (Terre Haute) played a big part as headquarters of the academic services. This newer format still featured a variety of big name professionals along with local experts, but the format was actually moved into the local college where being held. A Hawg Trough was brought in to replace the on-the-water aspect, and the course was brought down to 2 full days of classroom-type learning, more like a modern day conference.

The table of contents from the Bass Fishing Institute manual.

The table of contents from the Bass Fishing Institute manual.

The college formats featured general sessions that everyone would attend covering such subjects as proper tackle, general lure overviews, bass behavior, seasonal patterns and types of water bodies. Beyond those sessions, anglers would then select from a list of other specialized topics that were ran as concurrent sessions. You could select up to about half a dozen from what I recall, and these were much smaller, almost one-on-one type affairs. Subjects included things like specialized casting techniques, sonar interpretation, new equipment, lure demonstrations in the Trough, or viewing one of several fishing films at the time. The initial cost was $40, though it later increased to $60-$75, and you got the 110+ page study manual as part of that fee. Room and board, usually at a local motel, was at your expense.

I still have my study book from my sessions attended at ISU, and have included a few photos in this post. One question I hadn’t really thought much about, but just recently found the answer to was why ISU for these classes? Turns out there’s some pretty neat dot connecting involved. In August of 1976, In-Fisherman magazine published their Impoundment Classification System in its entirety for the first time. That system was developed by 3 people; Bobby Murray, Darrell Taylor and Ron Lindner. Bobby was named in that issue as the new In-Fisherman reservoir consultant. As mentioned above, he was also one of the founders of the American Institute of Bass Fishing. Darrel was an instructor at ISU that taught an 11 week angling class at the time, along with computer hardware. He also published and sold a series of topo charts that covered Stockton (MO), Shelbyville, Rend and Carlyle (IL) lakes, as well as becoming an outdoor writer and lecturer. Put all the personalilty pieces together and you now have your answer. A look at some old newspaper articles state that more than 20,000 anglers had attended the ISU sanctioned course in the first 10 years alone.

Course certificate from Butler University's bass fishing class.

Course certificate from Butler University’s bass fishing class.

The other local college affiliated bass fishing course I took was in 1985 and was part of Butler University’s Office of Extended Programs (Indpls.). Participants attended an evening class once a week, usually for 2-4 hours depending on instructor and material. Pros were brought in each week to act as instructors, and these were literally like one-on-one sessions, as class sizes were very small and limited to only those that enrolled. These were ran more like a lecture or seminar, with no special material. You simply took notes and asked questions of your pro for the evening. I’ve been trying to rack my brain remembering who all the instructors were, but the only two that come to mind right off that I’m fairly certain of were Zell Rowland and Ken Cook. Those that completed the course got a certificate of participation from Butler University.