ORU’s fishing club was founded by team captain Zach Vankeulen during his freshman year. Since then, it has grown to include seven members who have competed in national and local tournaments. The team is currently sponsored by more than five organizations.
Though classified as a club, Vankeulen says the group functions more as a team than a club. ORU’s fishing team competes in two different leagues, FLW and Boat US. This year, the team will be competing in at least six bass fishing tournaments. For some of these tournaments, the group will have to drive 10 to 12 hours away.
But for Jonathan Williamson, Vankeulen’s partner, the travel is one of his favorite parts of being on the team.
“If not the discounts [we get], I would have to say that I enjoy the travel the most,” Williamson said. “We get to see the most beautiful and best renowned lakes of the central United States, and when I say beautiful, I mean awe-inspiring.”
The fishing club has experienced some success during their short time at ORU. Although they haven’t recorded a win, they have placed in the top 10 five times.
A fourth place finish in Vankeulen’s first season netted the club $2,000 and a trip to a regional tournament where they placed ninth, better than any other Oklahoma team had done previously.
Last season, the team took two top-10 finishes in fields consisting of 40 other fishing teams.
Vankeulen said the competition is extremely intense. “We compete against OSU, OU, Texas, Texas A&M,” Vankeulen said. “All these schools have way more resources to pull from. It’s very, very, competitive but that’s what I love about it. It drives me to be better. It drives my partners to be better as a team.”
Vankeulen said there is a lot of work that has to be done in order to be competitive.
“To be competitive at the tournaments, it’s like adding another four-hour credit class,” Vankeulen said. “I do a lot of research. It’s basically being devoted to what you are doing. Just like any other sport, you’ve got to spend time. You’ve got to be out there and you’ve got to practice in order to be competitive.”
When he gets the opportunity, Vankeulen spends 13 hours on the water, from sunup to sundown. With his busy full-time college schedule, he usually gets two days per week to spend on the water. Williamson spends 10-20 hours during the summer, but during the school year only gets around 5-7 hours per week.
Williamson also mentioned the work involved to be successful.
“People often think that what we do is easy, but I assure you it is far more than putting a worm on a hook and throwing it into the water. You have to be willing to sleep three hours out of a weekend, after driving for 12, before fishing for eight, and driving another 12 back. Five-hour Energies and QT taquitos become staples in our diets, and the radio becomes the background of life.”
Despite the hard work, Williamson wouldn’t give it up. “In the end, the infectious fun and continuous laughter, the fellowship of truly getting to know your friends and the adrenal spike of the competition make the ORU team what it is, worth it.”
For Vankeulen and most of the other team members, who are seniors, this will be their last season with the club. There currently isn’t someone to take over the club when they graduate. Vankeulen said he doesn’t know what comes next for the team.
“Hopefully I’ll find that one person who’s as gung-ho as me that will take it over.”
Vankeulen said the team has been a uniting tool for people wanting the same activity. “What it’s done is connected fellow outdoorsman,” Vankeulen said. “People that love to fish, people that love to hunt. It’s connected people that wouldn’t have otherwise been connected and I’d hate to see that lost.”
The biggest fish Vankeulen has caught came last summer when he reeled in a bass weighing almost 10 pounds. “It was awesome,” he said. “You could easily fit two fists down that fish’s mouth.” Williamson’s biggest catch is a 350-pound black marlin. The biggest bass he has caught was approximately eight pounds.