By Michael Wetzel, Assistant sports editor, The Decatur Daily
When Jann Swaim was a youngster fishing on Wheeler Lake, he never thought he would one day be directing a college bass fishing tournament involving his favorite schools.
But beginning with Thursday’s practice session, Swaim, an academic adviser at Auburn, will be the man in charge at the Southern Collegiate Bass Championships at Ingalls Harbor in Decatur.
At daybreak Thursday, some of the 30 teams will be launching at Ingalls Harbor. Tournament fishing starts at 6:30 a.m. Friday and ends Saturday with the final weigh-in at 2 p.m.
The winning team advances to the Boat U.S. Nationals on Lewisville Lake in the Dallas area in late May. Swaim promises fans attending a “totally different atmosphere” than at the pro bass events.
“The anglers will be wearing their school jerseys,” said Swaim, a native of Huntsville. “The kids want to win. The same rivalries that exist in other sports exist in bass fishing.”
He said alumni groups and just general college fans have been showing up at weigh-ins to cheer for their favorite schools.
Swaim has seen the Southern Collegiate event grow from eight teams in 2008, its first year, at the Joe Wheeler State Park Lodge, to this year’s largest field.
He compared this season-ending tournament to that of the SEC basketball tournament.
“It’s like a second season,” he said. “Regardless of how your team did in the regular season, you get a second chance to win the championship.”
College anglers worked the waters of Guntersville, Pickwick and Neely Henry during the regular-season series. Bass fishing is a club sport at Auburn, the host school. Swaim said the school helps with hotel and food, but the boats, trailers, fishing gear and insurance costs belong to the student anglers.
“Bass fishing is another way for kids to be included as a member of a team for their college,” said Swaim, 53. “These kids are the future of the sport. There are some really good anglers at these schools.
“But there’s more to it than just fishing. The kids learn to be responsible, and they really seem to enjoy the networking that comes along with meeting kids from other schools.”
Swaim added his club had Auburn grad and pro bass angler Steve Kennedy speak with the members.
“The No. 1 thing I see the kids need to work on is being patient,” Swaim said. “They want to throw their lines a few times and race off to the next spot. I try to stress that they slow down and be more methodical with their time on the water.”
Auburn and UAB have dominated in the past couple of years, but Swaim said this year’s favorites are probably Alabama, North Alabama and Tennessee. He called regular-season points champion Georgia a darkhorse. Georgia’s Randy Tolbert and non-boater Chase Simmemon won the regular season individual series with 276 points. Swaim said a film crew for the Versus television network will be in town covering the event.
While Auburn and some of the other larger schools may field four boats with two anglers a boat, only the top two weights from two of the boats will be counted after the weigh-ins. Swaim said to even the playing field, some schools with only one boat in the tournament can bring 10 fish to the daily weigh-ins.
He said it may take more than 70 pounds to win this weekend’s tournament.
Helping Swaim will be his wife Jenny and assistant director Darrel High.
Spectator admission is free. Friday’s weigh-in is at 3 p.m. and Saturday’s at 2 p.m. Live streaming of the weigh-ins can be found at www.yourschoollive.com.
College bass fishing tournament
The third annual Southern Collegiate Bass Championship will be on Wheeler Lake on Friday and Saturday. Spectator admission is free.
The schedule of events
Practice begins at 6:30 a.m. at Ingalls Harbor.
Angler dinner at 5 p.m. at Point Mallard pavilion with regular-season awards and tournament rules to follow.
Launch at Ingalls Harbor, 6:30 a.m.
Weigh-in at Ingalls Harbor, 3 p.m.
Launch at Ingalls Harbor, 6:30 a.m.
Weigh-in at Ingalls Harbor, 2 p.m.
Awards to follow weigh-in.
Schools on Wheeler Lake
As of Wednesday afternoon, here are the schools registered to compete in the third annual Southern Collegiate Bass Championships on Wheeler Lake which begins Friday morning:
Auburn, Alabama, North Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Alabama-Birmingham, Virginia Tech, South Alabama, Northwest-Shoals Community College, Jacksonville State, Gadsden State Community College, Tennessee Tech, Middle Tennessee State, Austin Peay, Kennesaw State, Radford and Freed-Hardeman. Registration continues through Thursday afternoon.