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Fishing clubs take off at area colleges

| Sunday, March 27, 2011

When Jonathan Coholich had two requirements when he was looking for a college to attend.

He wanted a school that offered a good education. And he wanted one that either had a fishing club or would let him start one.

That's taken him to an interesting place.

Coholich, a freshman at La Roche College and founder of its fishing club, is competing with teammate Richard Smith in the National Guard FLW College Fishing tournament on Smith Mountain Lake, Va., today.

"I've fished some local tournaments, but given that this is a on a bigger scale, the nerves are still there," said Coholich, a freshman from Shaler. "But it's exciting, too."

He's getting into what is a growing sport.

When FLW -- which runs the Forrest Wood Cup, the international bass fishing tournament held in Pittsburgh in 2009 -- debuted its collegiate series that same year, the 40-boat events were dominated by a handful of schools from the Southeast. That's no longer the case.

"When we first started, there weren't that many schools participating," said FLW spokesman Jeff McCoy. "Now, there are a ton of them. All of our fields are full, from the Northern Division to the Western to the Southeast. It's grown tremendously."

It's taken in a number of area schools, including La Roche, Carnegie Mellon, Slippery Rock, Gannon, West Virginia, Penn State, Shippensburg and Fairmont State.

All are in the tour's Northern Division. It will host four events, with this weekend's the first. The top five teams in each advance to a regional championship in the fall, and the top five there go to the national championship next April.

First place in each event is worth $10,000, with $7,500 of that going to the school's fishing club and $2,500 to the school itself. The money can be spent on boats, equipment, trips or anything fishing related, McCoy said.

Carnegie Mellon's fishing club finished in second place in one event last season and won $2,500. That put them in the regional championship, where they finished near the bottom.

"The goal for this year is to make it back and do better," said Paul Kimball Jr., a Connecticut native and junior who founded the school's fishing club and was a part of last year's team.

He's no stranger to tournament fishing. His dad has fished events like the FLW Stren Series for 15 years, and Kimball Jr. often fished those same events as a co-angler.

Still, the FLW College Fishing tournament is special, he said.

"We had $60,000 boats to drive around, top of the line electronics, custom jerseys" Kimball Jr. said. "It's been a pretty cool experience."

His fishing partner this year, junior Kevin Gorr of New Jersey, has never fished in a tournament, and neither he nor Kimball have been to Smith Mountain Lake. But they've done their homework, checking out maps and talking to anglers with history at the lake.

They'll know after today whether that was enough.

"Let's keep our fingers crossed on that one," Gorr said.

As for Coholich he's fished local tournaments at lakes such as Pymatuning, Arthur and, Conneaut, and helped out when the FLW held the Forrest Wood Cup here. But this offers some real opportunity, he said.

"Basically, we're just hoping to finish in the top five of one of the Northern tournaments to get to the regional finals, and then maybe finish in the top five there to get to the national championship," he said. "That would be really cool."

College fishing in Pittsburgh?

Competitive college bass fishing could come to Pittsburgh.

This summer, La Roche College's fishing club will help with the annual Three Rivers Regatta bass tournament, said Howard Ishiyama, vice president for academic affairs at the school and the club's adviser. That will involve marketing and assisting at the weigh-ins.

Ultimately, though, organizers would like to attract collegiate fishing teams from Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia to the Regatta to fish, with special prize money on the line just for them, said Denny Tubbs, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and member of the Regatta board.

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