CHAMPAIGN — Looking for a good fish story?
Daniel Ruedi can tell you a whopper.
Once upon a time, there was a teenager so dedicated to bass fishing that it caused him to miss his high school's Senior Luncheon. The person's commitment was so strong that he even bypassed his high school graduation ceremony. The interest in the sport was so intense that the honor roll student selected a college in a region where he could compete year-round.
The 18-year-old Ruedi can vouch for the validity of those statements. Each represents a portion of his ongoing life story.
On the day that most St. Thomas More seniors were graduating — May 22 — Ruedi was at Clinton Lake, where he won the Illinois Qualifier for the National Guard Junior World Championship in the 15- to 18-year-old division. He was in position to do well because of how he spent his time in the days leading up to the competition.
"Since I did not have to take any finals, due to high grades, I was able to practice-fish six days in a row, for about seven to 10 hours a day," Ruedi said.
He is serious about bass fishing.
"I see myself pursuing a professional bass fishing career once I am out of college," he said.
When Ruedi packs for college — he'll major in liberal arts communications at Auburn — he'll take more than clothes and toiletries.
"There probably are not many college kids that will drag a fishing boat to college," he said.
There likely aren't many college students who have Ruedi's background in the sport.
"I was fishing before I could fully walk," he said. "I was around 1 1/2."
Summertime family vacations to Hilton Head, S.C., included quality beach time.
"My dad, brothers, sister and I would fish, mainly for sharks off the beach," Ruedi said. "It took us a couple of trips before we got the hang of it. We only fished from shore. At first, we caught small sand sharks a foot long or so.
"But when we bought sharper hooks, used full-sized mullets and waded out as far as we could, we began to catch 5- to 20-pounders regularly. My dad basically taught a lot of people how to do it. Our biggest was around 30 pounds. We caught some very big stingrays as well. We were the entertainment for the beach at times."
There was a point to their quest.
"Our favorite sharks to catch were blacktip sharks," Ruedi said. "We found out they were very good to eat, so we tried it. My dad and his dad (who is now deceased) would slice them into thick steaks and grill them. They were awesome."
The Wright matchup
As a 14-year-old, Ruedi finished third in a world junior tournament, the same one he'll compete in Aug. 11-14 at Hot Springs, Ark.
He has more than $18,000 in career earnings, but said getting hooked up with John Wright of Shelbyville a year ago has been a positive pairing.
"He has more than 40 years of bass fishing knowledge under his belt that he could have kept a secret, but he chose to share with me," Ruedi said. "It's knowledge that can't be learned in a book but through experience.
"He has helped me become a better angler in only one year's time, and I know I will improve as I still have so much to learn from him."
Wright said he was impressed with the teenager's thirst for knowledge.
"At his young age, he soaks it in," Wright said. "He doesn't miss anything."
Wright has been paired in tournament settings with bass fishing heavyweights Hank Parker and Kevin VanDam — who has more than $4.9 million in career earnings — but regards Ruedi as "the best person I've ever had in a boat with me. Daniel has everything he needs.
"He has a lot to learn, but he has done his homework and he knows the basics. It's not something you learn overnight. You've got to be able to spend time on the water."
That's the appeal of going to Auburn (Ala.) for college. Bass fishing is not an afterthought at a university that will have a roster of more than two dozen die-hards.
"My fishing coach at Auburn says it is the third-most-publicized sport at Auburn, next to basketball and, of course, football," Ruedi said.
Ruedi already understands enough to dispute one myth associated with bass fishing: That there's no talent associated with the endeavor.
"There is actually little luck in competitive bass fishing," Ruedi said. "The more you practice, the better you get.
"You cannot expect to fish against the best pro fishermen in the world solely based on how lucky you get. Consistency shows the ones that are not lucky and actually have skill. I have noticed that the harder I work and practice, the luckier I get."
From his association with Wright, Ruedi has discovered some of fishing's nuances.
"The major thing I have learned is how to fish deep," Ruedi said. "I think the majority of fishermen have a hard time with that. We won a tournament last year by fishing deep.
"As summer gets hotter, the fish will generally be located in deeper water, but it is not just the location in broad terms. John has shown me how the 'location within the location' is so important. Many times a fisherman will be within a foot or 2 of fish but misses the 'spot on the spot.' It might be a stump, brush pile or boulder, for example."
Ruedi learns by watching as well as by listening.
"Actually, seeing how he goes about locating fish under a wide set of weather patterns and seasonal patterns has been extremely helpful," Ruedi said. "He has taught me tons about water temperature, clarity and location of fish during different seasons.
"The way I look at it is I will never stop learning and I will always be able to get better."
Strong parental support
Fishing trips already have taken Ruedi to Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan and Minnesota as well as throughout his home state.
His interest has not been the only key to the extensive travels.
"Dad and Mom are behind him," Wright said.
Though Ruedi's corporate sponsors include Berkley PureFishing, customcast lures, Jimmy John's and Jack Links Beef Jerky, he is also indebted to his parents.
"They always come to watch my weigh-ins, regardless of the weather," Daniel Ruedi said. "My dad has supported me every step of the way and has enabled me to follow my dream.
"I can't do any of it without him believing in me and helping me every step of the way."
There are more steps yet to make.
"I feel I can achieve my major goal," Ruedi said, "of becoming one of, if not the best, professional bass fisherman."
That's why skipping his diploma ceremony didn't create any consternation.
"I never thought twice about missing my graduation," he said. "I look at bass fishing as my future, and I knew it was more important to fish in the National Guard Junior World Championship Qualifier.
"No matter what would have happened that day, I knew that if I would not have fished the tournament, I would regret it more than missing graduation."
There's nothing fishy about that attitude from a person who has fallen for his sport hook, line and sinker.
Fred Kroner is The News-Gazette's prep sports coordinator. He writes a weekly high school-related column throughout the school year. This will be his final one for the 2010-11 year. He can be reached by phone at 217-351-5232, by fax at 217-373-7401 or at email@example.com.