Top of the Morning, April 6, 2014
This morning at Clinton Lake, the Illini Bass Fishing Club puts on one of the more popular high school tournaments in the state (82 boats). Who knew Illinois was a fishing school?
"That is the fantastic thing about bass fishing. It is a ridiculously competitive sport that you don't have to be a great athlete to compete in," club president Luke Stoner said.
Hooked since using a bright green pole to bag a green sunfish in a backyard pond as a kid — "I still have a picture holding that fish right next to my father" — Stoner is happy to spread the word about his favorite sport.
How big is your recruiting budget?
"What recruiting budget?"
I'm guessing the Orange Krush probably wouldn't work so well at a tournament?
"Heck yes they would! Get them all on a pontoon boat and have them cheer every time an Illini angler lands a fish. We would love it. Believe it or not at the professional level there are hundreds of spectator boats at every event."
Think Dee Brown would make a good angler?
Stick Dee Brown in the right conditions with the right person and I am sure he could catch them like anyone else. Stick Dee Brown on a central Illinois lake by himself ... not so much.
What Illinois coach would you share your boat with?
"Actually my grandfather Marshall Stoner was an assistant coach at the U of I a few moons ago. I always love sharing the boat with him. Besides that, Coach Groce seems like he would be a great guy to share a boat with."
Is there a rivalry with Indiana like there is in basketball?
"There is — and there isn't. It really comes down to us just wanting to beat everyone, not just Indiana. But now that you mention it, we got second place to Indiana in the Big 10 Classic this year by 0.8 ounces. That one was so close it hurt the entire team bad, so I could definitely see a bigger rivalry forming."
Clinton Lake or State Farm Center — what's the better arena?
"Of course I have to go with Clinton Lake! I have spent way too many hours and had way too many good memories on that lake to choose the State Farm Center."
Who's more popular on campus, you or the basketball players?
"Unfortuantely I would have to say the basketball players with most groups of people. But don't rule the fishing boys (and girls) out, with the right groups of people we probably are just as popular."
Is the NCAA OK with you talking to the high school kids Sunday?
"I think it is all right with them. That is one of the best thing about fishing — the people who are really active with it really do care about the future generations of fisherman. It is 'leave it better than you found it' sort of deal with fishing. And we all strive to do what we can to make the future of bass fishing better — and brighter."
What are you hoping to accomplish with Sunday's tournament?
"We wanted to give these high school anglers (who are hungry for more tournaments) another chance to compete in a big-time tournament. When we started this three years ago, there were very few chances for high school anglers to compete besides the IHSA sectional and state tournament. That is only two opportunities a year, where schools can only bring two boats apiece. We wanted to give those kids who were serious about tournament bass fishing another stage to do what they love! Our tournament also falls before sectional tournaments, so it gives kids a chance to get out and be in a tournament setting before sectionals roll around. This does wonders for a tournament angler's mental game going into sectionals and state.
"Another reason we host this tournament is to tie together all the growth we have seen in bass fishing in the last few years, especially in the state of Illinois. Illinois was the first state to offer IHSA (high school) bass fishing. University of Illinois was also one of the very first colleges to have a bass fishing club (2001). So we just thought it was a great opportunity to bring everything together and a great chance for us to give back and help the future generations of fisherman/woman get 'hooked'!"