Bassmaster Elite Stop at Smith Mountain Marks a Special Anniversary for Virginia Tech Bass Fishing Team
By Deb Johnson
In June 2007, four college students attended the Bassmaster Elite Series event together on Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia. They were the sole members of the fledgling Virginia Tech Bass Fishing Team.
It was about two months after the horrors of the well-documented shooting at the university, and BASS rolled out the red carpet for the students: Charlie Machek, Brett Thompson, Scott Wiley and Chase Grinnel. They made guest appearances on Hooked Up, the Bassmaster.com show that previews the final day’s weigh-in, were asked to write blogs for ESPNOutdoors.com and were introduced to a number of Elite Series pros.
Meeting Elite pro Chris Lane of Lakeland, Fla., turned out to be opportune.
“He’s a friend of a cousin of mine in Florida,” Machek said. “A month or so later, Chris called me and offered to sponsor us. He jump-started our club with funding. He’s a big part of the reason we’ve been so successful because he’s given us the means to make it to a lot of events.”
For two years, Lane has contributed a percentage of his Elite Series winnings to the team. He said he plans to continue his support.
“I feel like I’m giving something back to the sport,” Lane said. “I think there’s a huge future for the sport through college competitions.”
Since the team got going in 2007, it has earned the support of other sponsors and has grown to 25 team members, 15 of them actively fishing in tournaments. Their competition schedule is heavy (see www.bassfishingteamatvt.com). Virginia Tech has collected several trophies, including the top prize at the 2007 Under Armour College Bass National Championship on the Arkansas River.
And, just like professional anglers, the team makes appearances at consumer shows and expos, including the 2009 Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo in Shreveport-Bossier City, La.
April 23-26, when the Elite Series returns to Smith Mountain Lake for the Advance Auto Parts Blue Ridge Brawl, Machek and Wiley will take part. Each is signed up to serve as an Elite Series Marshal, an official observer in a pro’s boat. Being a Marshal means a front-row seat in bass fishing’s school of higher learning, and the guys can’t wait.
“Chris invited us to stay with him at his rental house, so that will give us an even more in-depth understanding of what the pros do to prepare for a tournament,” Machek said.
Machek, Thompson and Wiley are on track to graduate in May, but Machek said they’ll still be around to offer help to the team if needed. The founders are likely to be busy pursuing careers in their fields: Machek and Thompson will each have a degree in building construction, and Wiley will graduate with a degree in landscape architecture.
“We’re passing the club on to the younger members,” he said. “We’re pretty proud of it.”