After topping the Southeastern Conference in 2021 and 2022, the fishing team at Auburn University adjusted to the new National Conference with ease in 2023 to earn the Tackle Warehouse School of the Year Presented by QuikTrip title. Beating out back-to-back champion University of Montevallo, the Tigers tallied 1,740 points on the season to finish the year as the best Abu Garcia College Fishing Presented by YETI team in the country. For their efforts, Auburn received $10,000 from QuikTrip to help offset tuition for the students who contributed to the title.
Unlike some of the other top college fishing outfits, the team at Auburn is a club sport, meaning it’s entirely student-run. Auburn has been at the top of college fishing since the start, at one time running Southern Collegiate Bass events and then cleaning up shop in an era when Jordan and Matt Lee, Shaye Baker and Shane Powell set the pace.
“We’ve been knocking on the door. I’m happy we finally made it happen,” said club president Blake Milligan, a senior double-majoring in business marketing and business management. “It was a pretty good year last year. I’m happy with it.”
Former president Carson Maddux, a fifth-year senior business management major, was similarly thrilled by the season.
“Going into the final event at Hartwell, we had a one-point lead,” he said. “Because it’s not a scholarship team, we can’t tell you to go to a tournament. Football games sometimes take priority for some students on the team. But we were able to rally those guys.
“There’s been a lot of individual accomplishments on the team. We’ve had guys do well in other circuits, win events, and qualify for other things. But this is the first collective school of the year we’ve won as a club. So, that’s exciting for sure.”
While teams like Montevallo and Bethel University have built a new model for college fishing success based around scholarships and formalized teams, Auburn is still operating like the early days of college fishing.
“We’re completely student-ran,” Maddux said. “Logan Parks donated some money to the team, and we have one $1,000 scholarship per year, so it’s very minimal scholarship money. The club raises a lot of money through sponsorship, selling merchandise and events. Through that, we’re able to fund the season, hotels, lodging expenses, dues, and we reimburse the gas money to the top-five finishing teams from each event.”
The club structure is a little more breezy than more formalized teams, and Auburn has had no problem attracting top talent.
“It’s a lot more loose. I know a lot of the teams that have coaches, because they have a budget from the school, the coach will place them on the lakes based on what their strengths will be,” Maddux said. “We’ve always preached that you’re doing the whole college fishing thing to gain experience. If you want to fish an event, you’re able to go to it.
“I’m on my fifth year at Auburn; I came in 2019,” he continued. “That’s when I think it started to shift, maybe a couple years before I got there. The Lee brothers dominated in the founding days of college fishing, and now it’s back to about every tournament, someone from Auburn excels. We don’t need to go to a scholarship team to compete, but we’ve implemented some recruiting to get us some new talent to compete year in and year out.”
With multiple good fisheries close to the campus, the school draws top talent from Alabama and elsewhere.
“It’s a really good geographical location,” Maddux said. “It’s kind of nestled between three major river systems in Alabama/Georgia. We’re right in the middle of a bunch of very diverse lakes. And when it comes to travel, we’re always going to have a tournament on the Tennessee River, which is 3 ½ hours north, and Florida is 6 hours south.”
School of the Year points consider the top two teams from each school at their three best events with 100 boats or more. So, while Auburn sent teams to four events that would have qualified, they ended up drawing points from the Harris Chain, Lake Guntersville and Lake Hartwell events.
Harris Chain – Jan. 20, 2023
7. Sam Hanggi and Sam Hoesley
16. Tanner Barclay and Lloyd Laconsay
Lake Guntersville – April 28, 2023
3. Hayden Marbut and Tucker Smith
7. Jordan Brewer and Sam Harvey
Lake Hartwell – Oct. 27, 2023
10. Carson Maddux and Bennett Slinkard
23. Hayden Marbut and Tucker Smith
“The best one we had out of our top three for MLF was Guntersville; we usually do well in that one because a lot of the team has experience there or lives around there,” Milligan said. “We didn’t really have one blowout tournament, we were just really consistent.”
“Before, we won the Southeastern Conference School of the Year a couple times, but we didn’t look at the National School of the Year. We just fished, and the cards were dealt the way they were,” Maddux said. “But we won our conference by considerable margins both years, and the teams we beat won National School of the Year. After that, we figured if we could beat them in conference, we ought to be able to do it nationally.”
The theory worked, and Auburn knocked their lights out this year, with a Bassmaster national championship to their credit in addition to the School of the Year win.
“I want the team to keep being at the top of the sport,” Milligan said. “There’s a lot of schools that have coaches; we’re student-ran. I want to see us win School of the Year next year and the next five years. I just want us to keep winning.”
1. Auburn University – 1,740 points
2. University of Montevallo – 1,714
3. University of North Alabama – 1,713
4. Carson-Newman University – 1,692
5. Emmanuel College – 1,692
6. LSU Shreveport – 1,690
7. McKendree University – 1,685
8. Tarleton State – Stephenville – 1,637
9. Kentucky Christian University – 1,634
10. Blue Mountain Christian University – 1,626