Host team making first casts in college

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Mike Suchan
Arkansas State University-Mountain Home anglers are (from left) Cheston Jones, Addison Mahan, Colton Shipman and Christopher Burkhart.

MOUNTAIN HOME, Ark. -- The cart kind of got in front of the horses, but Arkansas State University-Mountain Home now has fishing teams to compete in the event it’s hosting this week.

The 2019 Carhartt Bassmaster College Series at Bull Shoals Lake presented by Bass Pro Shops was scheduled before the school had a team in place, but they were in the works, possibly put together more quickly because of the derby.

“It all started with an invitation from the (Mountain Home Area) Chamber of Commerce. Then, I had a student come and see me asking, ‘Why don’t we have a fishing team?’ As a matter of fact, ‘I think I can hook you up,’” said Matt Klinger, the school’s physical education instructor who recently added a hat as bass fishing team coach. “At the time, I had no idea this was Bassmaster. I did some digging and the next thing I know we’re entered into the Carhartt College Bassmaster Series.”

The two two-man teams from ASUMH were excited at Wednesday’s angler registration as they put on their Bass Cat jerseys, which arrived with the ink of their school name still drying. They’ll be among the 200 teams at Thursday’s take-off at Bull Shoals Boat Dock. Blastoff is set for 6:30 a.m. CT.

The school’s jump into college fishing adds to the list of around 600 collegiate programs. Fishing and ASUMH are a perfect fit as the beautiful campus sits midway between Bull Shoals and Norfork lakes in north central Arkansas.

“I’ve always thought this school needed a fishing club,” said first member Christopher Burkhart. “I talked to many advisors and professors about it. I met a guy from the maintenance department and he pointed me in the right direction with Mr. Klinger. It started with me trying to find a partner and then now we have two boats.”

Klinger, a fishing wanna be, said he’s received interest from more of the school’s 1,300 students, and he’s had to turn many recent inquiries down for now for this tournament due to the late date. While he oversees intramural sports on campus, he’s rather proud to lead the school’s first sports team into competition.

“This is the very first collegiate event that ASU Mountain Home has ever been involved in,” he said. “We’ve never had any teams. We just received an invitation here recently, so we’re getting into this kind of late, but this is something that is long overdue. We’ve been wanting to see this for a long time.

“It started off with Christopher. He’s fished tournaments before, but nothing at this level. My first thought was we’re going to have to find you a partner. I called around and talked to some of the other instructors, and these guys were glad to do it.”

That is Colton Shipman, who with Burkhart make up team No. 1, and Cheston Jones and Addison Mahan on team 2.

“Since I’ve registered them in this event, I’ve had several calls from students wondering if it was too late. I had to turn some down, because we were running out of time,” Klinger said. “Next fall we’re going to open up the floodgates.”

Burkhart grew up in Mountain Home fishing for trout -- “A lot of trout fishing. My cousin always took me bass fishing when I was younger, but then I joined the service. When I got out, I bought a bass boat and that’s where it started for me.”

Before practice for this tournament, Burkhart had spent most of his time on Norfork because of a local tournament there. He does think there’s something to defending the home turf even if it’s their first rodeo.

“Who wouldn’t?” he said. “This is our home water. We’ve fished it for years. We’re having all these people coming in here. I feel like we have pretty good chance.”

While he said many he saw in practice “were in the wrong spots,” he knows he’s going against teams with more tournament experience. Like Carson-Newman University seniors Hunter Sales and Tristan Stalsworth. They were in the same boat a few years back when the Carhartt College Series visited Cherokee Lake.

“We knew the college tournament was coming the first year,” Sales said. “Tristan and I were baseball players at Carson Newman. I grew up fishing with my dad. There were a couple feelers sent out by the school and Tristan and I both jumped all over the opportunity to fish in the college event.”