A team of two UCF anglers will get the opportunity to compete in the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship on Aug. 1 on Chatuge Reservoir in Northeast Georgia.
The team, consisting of Justin Darley and Casey O’Donnell, will be competing against 67 other teams for their chance to make UCF history and even compete in the 2014 Bassmaster Classic, which both O’Donnell and Darley called the “Super Bowl” of professional bass fishing.
Darley and O’Donnell will both be making their final appearance in a college fishing tournament and hope to finish off their successful collegiate careers with a top finish in the Bassmaster national championship.
Growing up, Darley and O’Donnell learned how to fish from their fathers.
That interest, along with a growing aptitude for fishing, is what eventually led the two to become teammates and compete for the national title.
Before this year, Darley and O’Donnell were on separate teams and knew little about each other.
In 2011, O’Donnell and his teammate at the time won the Association of College Anglers national title, which is one of three collegiate championship series.
Darley has also experienced what it takes to be successful, nearly qualifying for the FLW national championship in December of 2012.
Immediately after pairing up as a team, O’Donnell and Darley experienced success and their friendship grew.
“You spend 10 hours in the boat together and it’s game time the whole time,” O’Donnell said. “You got to stay focused and mentally sharp for 10 hours and that’s a great way to build a friendship.”
“We started fishing and we were immediately good friends after that,” Darley said.
In February, Darley and O’Donnell placed fifth in a qualifying fishing tournament, cementing their place to compete in the Bassmaster collegiate national championship. Both priding themselves on versatility, they recognize that this national championship tournament will be extremely challenging.
Many Florida lakes are less than 10-feet deep, whereas Lake Chatuge, the site of the championship tournament, is nearly three times deeper than that.
“We’re going up a week early for practice to study maps and we’re trying to get patterns down of where the fish are,” Darley said. “Casey and I have both separately fished many tournaments with our dads and we both have a lot of experience. We feel like we can map and figure out patterns really well.”
While Darley said it would be a little nerve-racking, both he and O’Donnell are confident that they can compete at a high level during the August national title tournament.
“Our bass fishing aptitude is so high that we feel like there’s nothing we can’t do,” O’Donnell said. “We’ve been pretty successful every time we’ve put the boat in the water.”
To fish in this tournament and many other tournaments, the anglers have to provide their own equipment and pay for a lot of that equipment out of pocket. Reel Knights, the UCF fishing club, with the help of sponsors and fundraising, has helped the championship-bound team immensely along the course of their journey.
Darley’s father, who is a proud supporter of his son’s fishing achievements, has also helped by providing the boat they used in the qualifying tournament, which they will also use during the national championship.
Both O’Donnell and Darley hope to one day become professional fishermen, though the paths they take to get there may be different. Darley, who is graduating in December with a micro and molecular biology degree, hopes to attend dental school to eventually practice dentistry.
He said he one day hopes to compete in the Bassmaster Classic.
O’Donnell, on the other hand, is immediately pursuing a career in professional fishing.
“My parents are fully behind me to become a professional fisherman,” he said. “They both believe in me and I think this would be the absolute way to solidify my college career.”
With much support from family, friends, Reel Knights and the community, the confident team has one goal in mind: winning the championship tournament.
“I couldn’t have been paired up with a better guy,” O’Donnell said.
The Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship will take place Aug. 1-3 on the Chatuge Reservoir in Georgia.