Members of SIUC’s bass fishing team will pair up with student veterans for a day of fishing and relaxation on Lake of Egypt Saturday.
The Saluki Bassers, a Registered Student Organization, will sponsor the Third Annual Veterans Buddy Fishing Tournament as a way to thank veterans, said Dominick DiNovo, president of the group and a junior from Oak Lawn studying marketing. An experienced bass fisherman will be in each boat along with one or two veterans.
“We do it to serve the people who have served us,” he said.
Team member Aaron Connor, a senior from Murphysboro studying exercise science and a U.S. Army veteran, said the generosity of local and national sponsors make the event possible.
“LTB Warehouse in Johnson City donates bait,” Connor said. “And national companies that make rods and lures donate a bunch of product, too.”
Connor, who served a 10-month tour in Afghanistan, said fishing helped him readjust to civilian life after he returned.
“When I came home, the first thing they want to do is put you in therapy,” he said. “My therapy was going out in a boat.”
Connor said Bob Stucker, a Navy retiree who opened a fishing rod repair shop in Carterville, donates one of his custom-built rods each year. The rod is presented to the tournament winner.
The day is free of charge for any veteran who is a university student. The Saluki Bassers provide transportation to the lake, fishing tackle and gear, and food for a cookout after the tournament.
“No fishing experience required,” said team member Sam Stein, a freshman from Skokie studying criminal justice.
Team member Brett Nagel, a freshman from Jackson, Mo., studying aviation technology, said he and other Saluki Bassers are grateful for the freedoms afforded by veterans’ sacrifices. He said the fishing team is committed to making sure the veterans enjoy the tournament.
Stephen Crawley, a senior from DeSoto studying forestry, is this year’s tournament director. He said understanding the seasonal pattern of bass activity is key to successful tournament fishing.
“Bass go up shallow in spring, then go out deep in summer,” he said.
Crawley said bass prefer to say near the banks and out of the wind in the spring to spawn. They head to the deeper water in the middle of the lake where it’s cooler during the summer.
He said bass will follow shad, or small food fish, to a lake’s feeder streams in the fall, and they will return again to the deeper water in the middle of the lake in the winter so they can remain below the ice.
Crawley said southern Illinois is ideal for bass fishing because of the number of lakes in the region, and he said he hopes the veterans who participate in the tournament Saturday continue to fish at local lakes.
DiNovo said the Saluki Bassers participate in national bass tournaments, such as the Collegiate Bass Fish Open and the National Guard FLW College Fishing Tournament. The team is ranked 14th by ESPN among the 600 four-year colleges and universities in the country that have bass fishing teams and first among Illinois schools, he said.
The team meets every Wednesday at the Campus Lake Boat Dock for a paper tournament, DiNovo said. In a paper tournament, fish that are caught are measured and released immediately, and the measurement of the fish is recorded on paper rather than measuring the length of the fish at the end of the tournament.
Connor said the Saluki Bassers have a catch and release policy, which means they must return the fish to the water after they are caught, for all their events.
“We make every effort possible to have 100 percent release,” he said.
At last year’s tournament, team member Sean Howland, a senior from Pekin studying plant and soil science, operated the boat for the winning veteran. He said he hopes veterans will take the opportunity to spend Saturday fishing, relaxing and eating grilled hamburgers.