Aaron Connor communicates through anecdotes and allegories, a fitting quality for the president of the university’s fishing team, which is a hobby known for it’s storytellers.
To Connor, a senior from Murphysboro studying exercise technologies, it is easier to explain things by comparing them to more colorful examples. He has had a love for fishing his entire life, and he can tell a tale of each memory.
“All my life I’ve wanted to fish,” he said. “I even skipped my junior prom to go to a fishing tournament. I didn’t catch anything, but it was worth it.”
The Saluki Bassers intend to give Connor, who was elected club leader in spring 2012, more and more to talk about as the team thrives both on and off the water.
Club membership nearly tripled during the last year, from 13 members in the 2010-11 school year to 35 last season, and recently has had increased tournament success. The team travels throughout the Midwest during the year, to compete in college fishing tournaments.
Seniors Ryan Dunn and Brandon Ringer placed first March 11 in the National Guard FLW College Fishing Central Conference event on Table Rock Lake in Missouri. Connor said the team received $5,000 for the first place finish, the largest sum any Saluki Basser team has won in a single event.
Seniors Jacob Koester and Andrew Schessler placed fourth in another Central Conference event June 24 on Lake Shelbyville.
“I think we had a pretty good year,” said Dunn, who is studying biology from Harrisburg. “Aaron’s done a tremendous job, he stays on top of everything. He is really helping our club continue growing.”
Connor said a key to his team’s success is preparation.
“You’ve got to plan well and communicate it to your teammates,” he said. “Packing your tackle box is like packing for a trip; if you know you’re going to Arizona, you’re not going to pack a sweater.”
Connor said his family knew from an early age that he had a distinct love for fishing. He recalls sitting on his front porch as a young boy, pole in hand, waiting for a fish in a recently formed six-inch deep puddle.
That may be the reason he named his 17-foot aluminum bass boat “Puddles.”
Connor graduated high school in 2001, and in 2005 after a few years at community college in Kentucky, he decided to join the military. Following a year-long deployment in Afghanistan in 2008, Connor said he came to SIU and really began to focus on fishing.
A major reason he chose SIU was for its fishing team he said, which is something common throughout the team.
As president, Connor schedules tournaments — between 10 and 20 during the year — and handles the groups funding, he said.
Connor said he expects the team to have between 30 and 50 members this year, and he frequently receives emails from incoming freshmen interested in becoming a part of the team.
The popularity of college fishing isn’t only at SIU, said Danny Blandford, head of sales and marketing for the Association of Collegiate Anglers. Each May, the organization hosts an annual week-long national championship in Florence, Ala., on Lake Pickwick. This year, 372 anglers participated.
“In terms of growth, fishing is one of the most popular outdoor activities, and on the college level it has really taken off,” Blandford said. “It is starting to get television programming that reaches 70-75 million households, which has drawn a lot of attention to the sport.”
Throughout the summer, members of the Saluki Bassers compete in various tournaments and practice for the fall, which is when qualifying tournaments for major events occur.
Connor said he typically fishes twice a week on his own in order to keep in top shape for the season. The Saluki Bassers rank 31st out of 159 teams that compete in ACA sanctioned events, Blandford said.
“I’m usually out on the lake on Thursday and Saturday nights, when there’s not as many boaters,” Connor said. “It’s just me, myself and the crickets, living the dream one cast at a time.”