If you want to know if practice pays off, just ask Justin Gangel and Alex Cox, a pair of Cal State Long Beach (CSULB) seniors who captured the National Guard FLW College Fishing Western Conference Championship Utah Lake in Provo, Utah.
The two, who compete as a club sport through the university’s Department of Club Sports and Recreation, had an official three-day total of 14 bass caught weighing in at 21 pounds, 8 ounces, good enough to take the competition by five-plus pounds and win a Ranger Z117 bass boat with a 90-horsepower Evinrude or Mercury outboard.
Their dominating victory also earned them a berth in the national championship tournament next April (dates and location to be announced). Last year, the team’s second in existence, it barely missed qualifying for nationals, finishing seventh in the 2011 conference championship.
“This was definitely a team effort, but I had been up there practicing in August so we had a good idea of where to go,” said Gangel, who in mid-August made the 10-hour drive to the site and fished it for an entire week by himself in preparation for the tournament. “The only thing that changed for us was the certain bait we were throwing, and that was something Alex figured out on his own because he had done some fishing at El Dorado Park in Long Beach near his home.”
Gangel, a senior environmental science major, and Cox, a senior kinesiology major, qualified for the event based on their fifth-place finish in the first Western Conference bass fishing tournament of the season on Lake Shasta in Redding. They were one of 20 two-person teams competing at the conference tournament with only the top five teams after two days moving to the final day. Like the regular tournaments throughout the year, competition is based on the weight of each team’s five best fish caught each day.
“I felt that we had a good chance because I’ve heard the lake is really tough,” said Gangel. “I had some really good days and I also had some really bad days when I was practicing, but I just thought that if I could string them together that we couldn’t be beat.
“The quality of the fish dropped from when I was there practicing so we weren’t getting big fish, but we were getting the quantity,” he added. “We had a couple of spots we thought would really produce fish and we stayed along the same 200-yard stretch of lake called Provo Bay for all three days. Most of the teams went up there and had a tough time figuring out what to do and where to go after a practice day and the first day of competition.”
“Winning this is kind of hard to put words to it,” said Gangel. “It really hasn’t sunk in yet. It’s one of those things that you always think about. I’ve never won a tournament at this level and you kind of have those dreams of being on stage and holding the check, all those things that come with a win, and it just seems so unreal actually being on stage knowing you are the best in the Western Conference.”
Gangel acknowledged the support from CSULB Club Sports Director Rita Hayes and assistant Billy Harkness, who played a role in their success.
“They were both very helpful,” he said. “They are very supportive of the club and it’s very cool to know they are backing us even though they probably don’t know what tournament fishing is all about. Still, we feel that we get just as much support from them as any other club would get because they know how important it is to us.”