(A Dream come true)

Going to college is a real big step in any young graduates life. So you ask them what are they going to major in or planning for the future. From many you hear Engineering, Nursing, Business, Teaching, but how about the Outdoors. Some receive scholarship offers for football, basketball, baseball, or even golf. Fishing has not gotten to that point yet and not a recognized scholarship sport by the NCAA. But 10 years ago who would have dreamed that fishing would become a sport within the college ranks. Just so happens I know a young man whose major is Fishery and Wildlife, but he also is on the Arkansas Tech Fishing Team. Yes you heard me right, Fishing Team.

T J Tucker is a 2012 Charleston High School graduate. He played football and baseball for Charleston while attending CHS. T J lived in Radcliff with his parents Kenneth and Melissa Tucker. His grandparents are James and Carolyn Sewell, well-known Charleston Tiger fans. His grandmother was one of the original Granny’s who helped prepare lunch for the entire football team during T J’s tenure at Charleston. His sister Brittany, also a graduate of CHS, could be seen on the football field taking photos. She is a supporting sister but a great photographer in her own right. The Tucker’s have a strong family environment.

So what does all this have to do with the outdoors? T J likes to hunt, deer, turkey and ducks, especially with his dad. But he gained a passion for fishing when he was around 12 after his dad bought a flat bottom boat and started taking him fishing. T J said his dad was a super roll model for him, as they loved to spend time together learning fishing and hunting in Arkansas. He said his mom kept him organized both in school and with his outdoor equipment. So who was T J’s role model in the fishing world? I was waiting to hear Bill Dance or Jimmy Houston but it was Gerald Swindle from Guntersville, Alabama. Gerald had to work so hard to rise to a BASS Super Star. T J belongs to BASSMASTERS (BASS), Ducks Unlimited and the National Wildlife Turkey Federation (NWTF).

After graduating from Charleston High School, T J decided he want to go to Arkansas Tech in Russellville and major in Fishery and Wildlife. It was during his orientation that he found out Tech had a fishing team. Arkansas Tech Fishing Team advisor is Cathi McMahan. Wow, to be able to go to school and get a degree in Fish and Wildlife and to fish on the Arkansas Tech Fishing Team. A dream comes true. WELL??

I decided to sit down with this very impressive young man and hopefully pass along that it is not just that easy. So how was he going to afford all the equipment necessary to fish on this team? A college fishing team has no scholarships, plus it cost money to go to college. T J was working during his summer break for the Arkansas State Road Department in Ozark. This would help him make some money to offset his fishing equipment situation.

I asked him how did he break it down to handle everything during school? “It was very time consuming to maintaining good grades and compete in fishing tournaments. Plus I am the Vice President of our team now. As an officer of the team I need to carry a higher grade point average than team members. The hardest thing was the stress. You just have to dig in and get it done or you don’t compete. Then it’s just like college football and basketball, you have to travel all over to compete. The big difference is I have to supply my own equipment and tow my own boat to different lakes at my own expense. The NCAA will not allow you to receive money. We compete among ourselves for positions to go fish against other college teams. We have approximately 25 members at Arkansas Tech. Almost all the expense is ours to bare. So we have fundraisers, like once we had a pancake breakfast to raise money. That’s how the school and other students at Tech can help us. We also have to do 8 hours of community service work to be eligible to go to certain tournaments.” So there is a lot more to this then just good grades and fishing.

What did he mean against other colleges? There are several other colleges that have fishing teams, UAFS, LSU, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, Delaware, just to name a few. “We have regions that we fish within. Then it moves up to the next level. They even have fishing teams in several high schools now days. It’s getting bigger every year. My first year’s goal was to finish in the top 6 and I did that. Then, I won the first tournament I fished out of my boat as a sophomore with the team. As a freshman, I didn’t get to take my boat a lot. Something about being a freshman they told me. So as a team we get to go fish against other college teams within our region.”

Arkansas Tech had 8 club qualifying tournaments. Out of those tournaments the top 6 individuals got to go to Pickwick Lake in Alabama. From there only 2 Arkansas Tech fishing students get to go to the Bassmasters College Series National Championships Team Event. So Arkansas Tech senior T J Tucker along with Freshman Bennett Pierce of Ft. Smith managed to qualify for this year’s event. They will travel to the Bemidji Chain of Lakes in Bemidji, Minnesota August 7 – 12 to participate in the Bassmasters College Series National Championships. They will practice fish the 7th – 9th and the official tournament dates are the 10th – 12th. (Yes you have to practice fishing) The top 4 teams from this event will come back a week later to another lake and compete as individuals in the Bassmasters College Series. The single winner of that tournament will represent the College Series at the Bassmasters Classic. Just for a note; while T J is up north fishing in the College Series tournament, his class is graduating in Russellville at Arkansas Tech.

I had a few more questions to ask T J. Have you had any fishing embarrassing moments so far? “Oh yea, I launched my Ranger 1988 bass boat and when I went to pick my partner up at the dock, he asked me when I got there if the water was suppose to be coming out of the vents on the floor. I was so excited about my Ranger, that I put my drain plug in the live well instead of the back of the boat. Water was coming in everywhere. I just told him sooner or later every fisherman does that.”

Is there something about yourself that people might not really know? “Not much, but if it comes up I can handle it. And yes, I can be stubborn if I need to be.”

If you were standing in front of Charleston High School seniors what would you tell them? “Just keep your head down and grind it out. Things usually find the right course.”

If you like to fish is there a place for you at Arkansas Tech? “It’s just like any other sport in college, you have to keep your grades up. Hopefully one-day colleges will offer scholarships for fishing since high schools are starting to offer classes and have competition now.”

Congratulations T J Tucker on your Graduation at Arkansas Tech with a major in Fishery and Wildlife. Charleston High School has a lot to be proud of in you.

We would like to see some more outdoor pictures, hiking, canoeing, fishing or maybe some game camera’s pictures. So if you have a picture that you would like to share, you can email it to ksims@charlestonexpress.com, call (479) 252-6351, and let them know you have a picture to submit or drop by 38 Town Square, Greenwood, AR. 72936 to drop it off.

Always Be Safe and enjoy OUTDOORS ARKANSAS