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Local anglers Noah Skolnick and Garrett Torres failed to make the Collegiate Bass Fishing Championship, expecting an underdog win against the best competition in the country.
A win that big would be like winning 16 seeds in the first round of March Madness. But that’s exactly what they did on May 27th at Lake Murray, South Carolina.
The competition to beat was university teams who treat their perch fishing like Division I athletics. The major bass fishing schools offer everything from packaged boats and trucks to buses to entrance fees and travel budgets.
Skolnick, a Shawnee Mission East graduate who is now attending Texas Christian University, was able to enroll and join TCU, but that was the end of it for him.
The team from the event’s hometown, Newberry College, was just 35 miles from the shores of Lake Murray, South Carolina. The Kansas natives drove 14 hours to compete and didn’t even have jerseys on the podium. But against all odds, Skolnick and Torres beat the Newberry team by £ 0.72.
In the crowd of entourages, coaches, and parents, Skolnick’s mom – who drove four hours from her family’s vacation spot to attend – was the only fan in the crowd to cheer them on as their names with the 32.51-pound winning weight were called.
Every child in sport dreams of this moment; a walk-off home run, a Hail Mary touchdown pass on the final play, or the final penalty kick to win the championship in football.
This was that moment for Skolnick.
“To hear him call out that we’re the winning weight and we’re the national champion, that’s a high I’ve never felt before,” said Skolnick. “It was so surreal to lift this trophy and know that this is a title that we will have forever and that no one can take away from us.”
“I’ve been to so many tournament weigh-ins and so many far-away places, but there was no way I would miss it because they’d already done such a great job,” said Lisa Skolnick, Noah’s mother. “The fact that they ended up winning that college championship, I mean, if I hadn’t been there, they wouldn’t have had anyone to themselves. So I was very excited to be there and I think he was really surprised so it was very worth it. “
It was a pleasant feeling for her – the time and effort invested, the 14 hours there and back and the money from her own pocket on the biggest stage were worth it.
“It is definitely worth winning because it shows that you can compete with the best anglers in the nation,” said Torres. “And then you also show yourself that everything you did, all the long hours and the frustration, were not in vain. I think that’s the biggest thing: subconsciously, it feels like I did it for a reason. “
After their first day of fishing, Skolnick and Torres were in 15th place, weighing 13.53 pounds. They had had a strategy of spending 45 minutes to an hour in each location, but they didn’t hit the right feeding windows. Then they had some enlightenment when they realized that if the big fish were to bite, it would happen within 15 minutes of fishing in any given location.
So they decided to swing to the fences and hop around in the designated spots, only spending 15 minutes at a time, to give themselves a better chance of finding the correct feeding windows.
Day two only saw eight bites. But they only needed five good ones, and although their first guard fish of the day wasn’t caught until 10 a.m., it was a five-pounder. They knew it took them 18 to 20 pounds to win the competition and their pocket on day two was 18.98 pounds.
“If you fish after five bites in a day, your margin of error is essentially zero,” said Skolnick. “It was really a perfect storm. The stars were aligned and we could pull through. “
The grand prize was $ 5,000 – not a small amount, but after dividing their earnings and subtracting the expenses they spent participating in the tournament, Skolnick said they barely broke even.
Skolnick and Torres form a two-man bass fishing club at TCU. The club was inactive when Skolnick arrived in Fort Worth in 2019.
But Skolnick had played tournament bass fishing throughout high school and was not ready to give up his competition. He was finally allowed to restart club membership with the TCU.
In the fall of 2020, Torres arrived on campus after graduating from Blue Valley Northwest. He said it was really a coincidence that he ended up at the same university as Skolnick. They knew each other in high school but had never fished in tournaments together.
The club has a boat owned by Skolnick’s family, and tournament fees, equipment, and travel come from the pockets of the two college students. It’s difficult to get to tournaments the week before for official training – they have classes and usually can’t excuse their absence from competitions.
Since it is now summer, the national championship offered the students a rare opportunity to get to the lake early and “pre-fish”. With such a contrast in the environments between Lake Murray and the Midwest or South lakes to which they were accustomed, it was important to be able to pre-fish.
“This gave us time to pre-fish and do our best,” said Skolnick. “And we have proven that we can achieve success with it. I mean, we won the biggest tournament of the year. “
It’s not like the TCU completely turned down financial support for the club, Torres said. It was more that the school had no reason to financially support an association of this size.
As champions, Skolnick and Torres might have given the school a reason to do more help. Torres said the duo would welcome any form of assistance from reimbursing some expenses to jerseys or boot swraps the likes of which other college programs enjoy.
“That would be really cool for us because I think Noah and I have the talent to compete at the next level and be really good,” said Torres. “Of course, it doesn’t happen very often to win a national championship. But I think we have the ability to do really well. We just need some support from TCU. “
Both Torres and Skolnick are interested in mentoring other young anglers and letting them know that they shouldn’t hesitate to dream big.
“I wouldn’t even be anywhere near where I am now if it weren’t for several mentors,” said Torres. “It’s just about giving the people who need the experience and who need to be taught to have experiences on the water. It’s just super satisfying for me to give something back. “
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