This is a fish story. It’s a story about Bellarmine students getting on the lake before dawn and spending an entire day in search of the biggest trophies in the water. But it’s also a tale about students angling for high-dollar sponsors and even, perhaps, eventual careers in the outdoor sports world. And unlike most fish stories, this one is 100 percent true.
Trevor Hulsey knows bass. The rising junior from Louisville has been fishing competitively since he was 15 and started the team at Trinity, making Kentucky the second state to have state-sanctioned bass fishing at the high school level. He also knows business. “Ninety percent of bass fishing is marketing. It’s working with sponsors, going out and promoting their products.”
As an assistant manager at Dick’s Sporting Goods through high school, he met the reps for all of the outdoor sporting goods and landed his first sponsors. “When they hear you’re 18 and you’ve won $25,000 in a tournament, a lot of people take notice,” he said. Those sponsorships and his talent for flipping boats (the real-estate way, not the aquatic accident way) netted him the $120,000 or so in equipment he now owns.
James Kuhns is also an avid angler. He did his fishing from a pedal boat in a lake that he and his father own in Bullitt County—until Trevor approached him in a business law class and asked him to be vice president of the Bellarmine Bass Fishing Team, a club sport that formed last fall. “It’s definitely a different style of fishing,” said the rising senior, also from Louisville. “It’s cool seeing all the thought that goes into it—analyzing your navigation system and your depth finder and all that to figure out how the fish are moving.”
Trevor serves as president of the team. Greg Dulaney, head fishing coach at Trinity, is Bellarmine’s part-time coach and recruiter. So far, the team has eight members and four boats, but Trevor and James expect those numbers to grow as word gets out. “We get this a lot,” James said: “‘Wait—there’s a bass fishing team? I didn’t even know that was a sport.’”
It definitely is a sport, and a highly regulated one. Using artificial bait, anglers go out in twos in search of the largest smallmouth, largemouth and spotted bass. When they make a catch, they keep the fish alive in wells on the boat. Depending on the tournament, they weigh in either their one biggest bass, or their five biggest, then release them. As part of the Fishing League Worldwide (FLW)’s Central Division, Bellarmine’s team fishes the eastern U.S., everywhere from the Great Lakes to Florida.
If that sounds pretty sweet, let Trevor inject some reality. “It’s not sitting on a boat with a bobber in the water, cracking some beers,” he says. “It takes some pretty tough skin to bass fish. When you’re on the water all day, it’s not all sunny and 75 degrees out, with a little breeze cooling you off.” For one thing, the bass fishing season runs from February through December. “It’s pretty brutal. We go out rain or shine; in thunderstorms with 30 to 40 mph winds. The water can be rough. Sometimes it’s freezing. Some days in the summer, it’s over 100 degrees on the water. It takes a lot out of you.”
Team members who were new to competitive fishing found that out the hard way at their first tournament, in February. “Trevor had been harping at us all through January: ‘Get a rain suit, be prepared,’” James said. “And we’re all sitting there thinking, ‘Pffft. We’re not gonna pay 200 bucks for a rain suit.’ Sure enough, on the first day, we were getting hit with monsoon-type rain; the boats were practically filling up with water; it was frigid cold outside. Next thing we know, we’re at Walmart buying rain suits.”
In January, the Bellarmine team plans to have a booth at most of the boat and fishing shows, where students can network with reps for Cabela’s, Bass Pro, and more. Trevor and James, who are both enrolled in Bellarmine’s five-year MBA program, can envision futures in the outdoor sports world, although not necessarily at the end of a fishing line. “There are jobs in this industry that aren’t just fishing,” Trevor said. “People have to manage these companies and sell their products; do marketing, accounting, finances.”
To that end, one of Trevor’s minors is marketing and communications. James hasn’t yet committed. “Fishing is my minor right now,” he said, jokingly. “Fish studies.”