In recent years, as the sport of college fishing has exploded in popularity, a lesser-known fact in the college fishing world has bubbled to the surface – Indiana University started it all. That’s right, basketball isn’t the only sport steeped in tradition in Bloomington. It all started on a blistery November day in 1968. Well, sort of.
The IU club founder, Stephen Lutz, was fresh out of college when he sent a trophy bass to a taxidermist in Alabama. He then received an invitation from Ray Scott, the founder of B.A.S.S., to fish the Dixie Invitational at Smith Lake in Alabama from November 14-16, 1968. The idea of a fishing tournament fascinated Mr. Lutz, so he decided to go. It was at Smith Lake where Lutz witnessed and rode in his first bass boat and was able to fish alongside legends such as Ray Scott, Tom Mann of Mann’s Bait Company, and a young furniture salesman from Tennessee who won the event, Bill Dance. On the drive back home Mr. Lutz thought of what a great idea it would be to add collegiate fishing to the list of sports that are offered at that level of competition. Lutz left for the Air Force two months after the Dixie Invitational, but the idea of college fishing never left his mind.
Some time went by before Stephen found a niche and was able to make the first step of his dream a reality. Mr. Lutz landed a job as a professor at Indiana University, where he continued to toy with the idea of a fishing team until the first meeting of the first college bass club was held on February 10, 1987 with eight members. And just like that, collegiate fishing was born. A year later, the IU Fishing team boasted 50 members and was active in the community, raising funds for public access improvements on Lake Lemon and holding fishing seminars for the Bloomington Boy’s Club.
The first club tournament was held on April 17, 1988. “It was a humble beginning,” Lutz said of the event, “I would take one student at a time in my boat while the other students stood and fished on the bank at Lake Monroe, and every 30 minutes, I would go back to the ramp and trade students.”
It wasn’t long before word got out about the club. Mr. Lutz began receiving congratulations in the form of handwritten letters from legends like Bill Dance and Jimmy Houston, who wrote “Maybe someday it will be more common to have a fishing team as well as football, basketball, soccer, etc.” However, this was only the beginning for Mr. Lutz. In 1968, he dreamed of schools being pitted against each other on the water, just the same way they were on football fields or basketball courts. Lutz and the IU club president, Lance Pyle, reached out to other Big Ten schools and struck gold with Shad Schenk, a student at Purdue University, and the first president of their fishing club.
On April 18, 1992 IU and Purdue made history on Lake Monroe by competing in the first ever intercollegiate bass fishing tournament, “The Old Minnow Bucket”. The name of the event is a take on “The Old Oaken Bucket”, the title given to the football game the two schools play against each other.
The Indiana Bass Federation provided boat drivers, since none of the students had their own fishing boat. One of the Federation drivers, Jeff Schroer, said of the event “It was a cold, overcast, blustery spring day. Spinnerbaits seemed to be the only thing we could get any action on. Color didn’t matter, as long as it kept the fisherman moving if for no other reason to ward off the chill.” Schroer mentioned that he was glad his son had the opportunity to fish in college, and continued on to say “I would have loved to have had an opportunity like this when I was in school, but Ray Scott probably wasn’t even thinking about organized bass fishing then.” Needless to say, Schroer and the other Federation drivers were honored to participate in the tournament, as well as the banquet the night before and the awards ceremony. Unfortunately for the Hoosiers, Purdue anglers managed to put three more pounds in their live wells and the first ever Minnow Bucket was awarded to the Boilermakers to keep for the next year. Chancellor Herman Wells awarded the Minnow Bucket with a short speech, saying “Sixty-seven years ago, I was present when the first Old Oaken Bucket was presented… I’m happy to be here to inaugurate a healthy new tradition between the two universities. I congratulate the Purdue Fishing Team for their victory and Mr. Stephan Lutz of IU for his vision, perseverance, and dedication in establishing fishing competition at the University level.”
Soon after the first Minnow Bucket, the two college clubs started getting local and national recognition from BASS Times, amongst other publications. It wasn’t long before other schools started to take note, and form fishing clubs of their own. Unfortunately, Mr. Lutz’s dream of an NCAA sport has not yet been realized, but other organizations like FLW and College BASS have stepped in to help propel the sport of college fishing into a nationally known sport, and provide schools the chance to fish against each other in large scale tournaments.
To all those anglers who participate in and enjoy the sport of college bass fishing, it is safe to say that we all owe Mr. Lutz, who is now retired and living in Illinois, a debt of gratitude for never losing site of his dream from 1968.