Big Dawgs on the Big Stage
Jason Sleik
jslei157@uwsp.edu

The Big Dawg Fishing Bass Club stormed their way through the summer collegiate bass fishing circuits reaching a level of cumulative height never attained by the club.

UWSP anglers parlayed their efforts into a 13th place finish in the Association of Collegiate Anglers School of the Year Standings. Three separate UWSP angling duos qualified for National Championships along the way.

Club President, Jason Hawksford, spearheads UWSP’s charge, facilitating and organizing the club’s tournaments and agendas with his fellow officers and dedicated club members.

“The ceiling of this club is just huge,” Hawksford said. “We take collegiate bass fishing seriously and would love to show our dominance around the country as the bestcollege bass fishing team in the nation.”

In order to attain this, fishing as many ACA recognized tournaments as possible is something at the top of the club’s agenda and something that was prioritized over the spring and summer circuit seasons.

Fort Madison, Iowa and the Mississippi River were selected to host the Midwest Regional qualifier for the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship.

With a reachable location and an uncapped number of entrants, UWSP Big Dawg Fishing sent seven teams to the event while offering club funded travel to maximize possible participation.

This prioritization proved to be an infallible decision when UWSP boats placed 3rd and 4th and qualified two teams to the National Championship in August.

Reigning club champions, Cody Hahner and Stephen Maliborski, continued their club season dominance and overcame tremendous in-tournament obstacles on their way to a 4th place finish out of 52 entries in the event.

The team of Nick Carter and Leo Dedering did one better, finishing 3rd and easily catching the biggest bass of the tournament.

The weather in Fort Madison was treacherous, to put it mildly.

“The river looked like chocolate milk out there. When I arrived in Fort Madison, I quickly noticed houses in the water. The water level was approximately 6-8 feet higher than the average,” Maliborski said.

“The weather was insane! River conditions were scary at best, the fishing was next to impossible, and we were very lucky we got to fish,” Carter said.

The weather was such a factor that it forced a change of venue from the Mississippi River to
Lake Sugema, 45 minutes away from Fort Madison.

On top of that, Sugema posed a challenge in that it is a lake with a slot limit, meaning only bass in between 10-12 inches and over 18 inches can be counted for tournament purposes.

This changed the strategy of the teams in terms of the knowledge that just one or two trophy bass may determine the outcome of the tournament and the difference between qualifying for Nationals and going home.

“In order to catch these bigger fish, we needed to focus and note how each big fish ate, where they were located, and how we were presenting our baits to the fish,” Hahner said.

Dedering was able to execute this philosophy to perfection when he hauled in a 6-pound, 7-ounce bass that stole the show and catapulted his team to the National Championship.

“Catching a fish like that is a special experience no matter what,” Dedering said. “It is the biggest bass I have ever caught and to have landed it during a crucial tournament was absolutely amazing.”

With these successes, both teams were able to fish the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship at Chatuge Reservoir in Georgia in early August. Although their success from Sugema was not duplicated, both teams were honored to have just participated in such a prestigious event.

“Qualifying for an event like this was amazing. It’s been a goal of mine since I first started fishing tournaments five years ago, my freshman year at UWSP,” Carter said.

“For me, fishing the National Championship was one of the best experiences I’ve been able to encounter in my fishing career,” Hahner said.

Dedering echoed these thoughts. “Fishing at the Collegiate National Championship was an experience that I will never forget. It was the biggest tournament I have ever been a part of and it was on a body of water like none I have ever seen before.”

Maliborski took it one step further, pointing only toward the future.

“The end result always matters to me. I lost at Chatuge, but I now have gained the information necessary to win the next time. So the end result is a win for me, as long as I learn from my mistakes and continue progressing.”​