Florida Gators are college fishing's bass masters

Trivia question: How many national championships has the University of Florida won?

If you are a football fan, you will say three: at the end of the 1996, 2006 and 2008 seasons.

If you are a basketball fan, you will say two — 2006 and 2007.

But if you are an all-around sports fan, the correct answer is 25 team titles when you add golf, swimming, track and field, tennis, etc.

And now, the Gators just brought home another national title. This one, however, is in bass fishing. In fact, this is the second year in a row that the Gators have fielded the best college bass anglers in the United States.

"It is pretty cool," said Jake Gipson, who along with Matt Wercinski won the College Fishing national championship last week on Kentucky Lake near Murray, Ky. "People definitely know about it this time around."

The two seniors, both 24 and from Niceville, weighed a five-bass limit totaling 14 pounds, 4 ounces Saturday to win their second title in as many years, a rare feat in any collegiate sport.

Their three-day total of 15 bass weighing 41-8 gave them a 4-pound, 6-ounce margin of victory over LSU-Shreveport this year. At the 2010 event, they boated 10 fish weighing 29-10 to win by 9 ounces.

"It was just an awesome experience," said Wercinski, a business major. "In bass fishing, all you have is the opportunity to win. And we did it two times."

Bass fishing is not sanctioned by the NCAA, nor is it an official "club sport" at Florida. But the school will benefit from the anglers' success. The tournament's grand prize was worth $100,000, with $25,000 going to the school. The University of Florida Bass Fishing Club also will receive a check for $50,000 and a Ranger bass boat, motor and trailer valued at $25,000.

The anglers also will receive an invitation to fish against the pros in August at the Forrest L. Wood Cup in Hot Springs, Ark., and possibly bring home a $1 million purse.

"I've gotten a lot of praise from our friends and family," Wercinski said. "But it is not like I have people stopping me on campus. This is no Tim Tebow."

Gipson and Wercinski went to high school together, but they did not become fishing partners until they went off to college. They try to dip a line whenever possible. Their favorite fishing hole is Orange Lake near Gainesville.

Self-professed "best friends," Gipson and Wercinski said they fish together like a "well-oiled machine."

Gipson added: "We both fish from the front of the boat. Matt's left-handed and I'm right-handed so we can stand shoulder-to-shoulder when we fish."

Florida fishermen have an advantage on their home turf, but Gipson said, "It is hard to adapt when we travel to other spots in the country."

Florida lakes tend to be shallow bodies of water with a lot of grass and other aquatic vegetation.

"We are all basically grass fishermen," said Gipson, who studies engineering. "But a lot of these lakes are deep with no grass. It can take some getting used to. You have to be versatile."

The college national championship event, run by bass fishing's FLW Outdoors, featured 125 teams, 25 from each of the five geographical divisions on the organization's college tour. UF had two teams qualify for this year's event.

Over the years, FLW Outdoors has awarded more than $2 million in scholarship money to more than 100 colleges and universities. The organization's college fishing events are free to enter, boats and drivers are provided by FLW Outdoors and all collegiate teams receive a travel allowance.

To learn more, go to College Fishing.com or FLWOutdoors.com.

. fast facts

Sport of kings

After weeks of waiting for the migration to reach our area, the kingfish are back in good numbers. And that means a run of tournaments. Madeira Beach-based Team Lagerhead, above — left to right, Brian Simmons, Corey Alley, Doug Speeler and Dave Bayes — captained by Steve Papen, shows off its winning king from last week's Sarasota Sertoma kingfish event.

Upcoming mackerel tournaments

April 23: Billy's Stonecrab tournament. Captains meeting, 6 p.m. April 22 at the Tierra Verde restaurant. Call (727) 458-6731.

April 30: Old Salt King of the Beach. Captains meeting, 6-10 p.m. April 28. Information: Oldsaltfishing.org.

Saturday: Billy's Stonecrab Spanish mackerel event. Captains meeting, 6 tonight at the restaurant. Call (727) 458-6731.

Florida Gators are college fishing's bass masters 04/14/11 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 5:50pm]

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