Will Phillips

Will Phillips, right, and team member Sean  Murphy display two bass they caught at the FLW College National Championship that put them in eighth place.

It wasn’t until Will Phillips, of White Plains, was in high school that he started fishing. In fact, he and a few other students helped start the high school fishing team at White Plains. He and his teammates shared techniques, learned as much as they could about bass fishing and competed in several tournaments.

Phillips and his dad often watched the Bassmaster College Series tournaments on ESPN. The pair watched two brothers, Matt and Jordan Lee with the Auburn fishing team, fish their way up to the Bassmaster Classic from college tournaments. Phillips would comment to his dad how great it would be to fish on the Auburn bass fishing team.

Since he was a kid, Phillips was an Auburn fan. After graduation from high school, he enrolled at Auburn in mechanical engineering.

“I didn’t think about fishing on the Auburn team that first year,” Phillips said. “In my sophomore year, I attended an interest meeting about the Auburn bass fishing team.”

The team was open to any student and anyone could join as long as they were willing to learn. Phillips signed up and began fishing college bass tournaments around the nation with the Auburn team. He learned different techniques from other team members who were willing to share. During the first year, he and his partner finished in the top 50 twice.

The Auburn fishing team has around 65 members. The University provides some funding, but the team has fundraisers throughout the year and help from some sponsors to cover tournament expenses. The team does not have a coach and is led by student anglers.

“In 2018 on Lake Guntersville, we qualified for the 2019 National Championship event under FLW,” said Phillips. “During the offseason we spent time fishing and researched about fishing.”

The FLW College Championship was held on the Potomac River near Washington, D.C., the first week of June. College fishing teams from around the country earned their spot in the event. This year, there were 148 teams in competition for the three-day tournament.

Philips and his partner, Sean Murphy, finished in the eighth spot with a three-day total of 43 pounds, 12 ounces.

“This is a tidal river and we knew the bass would only feed two times per day, at high tide and low tide,” said Phillips. “We couldn’t move around much and waited on the tide to change to catch our fish.”

Before the tournament, Phillips used Google Earth to survey the river and locate milfoil mats. He also researched tidal patterns. The search paid off.

“We fished milfoil mats in around one to four feet of water,” said Phillips. “Our top lure was a Z-Man ChatterBait in black/blue with a green pumpkin Yamamoto Zako swimbait.

Phillips said he will graduate in December and will have six months of eligibility to fish on the Auburn team. His plans are to find a job and fish FLW BFL and B.A.S.S Open Tournaments.

“I never dreamed it would be possible to leave a small school and fish for major college team,” Phillips said.

With high school fishing popular now, Phillips encourages high school anglers to go to college and join their fishing team.

Charles Johnson is the Star’s outdoor editor. You can reach Charles at charjohn@cableone.net