A small Michigan College is building a reputation as…
Collegiate level bass fishing is growing each year in Michigan. Colleges and Universities including Western Michigan, Central Michigan, Michigan State, Northern Michigan, Grand Valley, Lake Superior State and Northwood University offer bass fishing as a club sport. The college that has led the way over the past five years in national rankings and national success is Adrian College, a private, liberal arts college located in southeastern Michigan.
Dr. Jeffery Docking came to Adrian College as that institution’s 17th president in 2005. Soon after his arrival, Dr. Docking named Mike Duffy as the school’s athletic director. Mike was a 20-year veteran administrator at Adrian prior to this promotion. When the two began working together Adrian offered 16 teams; 8 men’s and 8 women’s sports. Today they boast 16 men’s varsity teams, 13 women’s varsity teams, 9 men’s club sports, and 7 women’s club sports for a total of 45 teams. Bass fishing is one of these men’s club sports.
The idea to include bass fishing as a club sport began as a joke. After a board meeting one evening a member showed Mike an article about collegiate fishing. The trustee laughed and said, “We are adding so many sports teams you might as well take a look at this.” Mike did look at it. He and Dr. Docking agreed there could be great interest and opportunity in this growing sport. To best take advantage of the growing interest they would need to hire a quality coach to guide this new program. They found their man right under their nose.
Seth Borton grew up in Morenci, a small rural community in Lenawee County. He attended a private primary school in Adrian. Seth grew up working with his father in the family landscaping business. From his father he learned that hard work is the key to success. When not working or playing school supported team sports Seth was fishing. He fished in creeks and ponds near his family’s home. The creeks mainly supported carp and suckers. One day, almost by accident, Seth caught a smallmouth bass. That catch changed and shaped his life. It was now that Seth was hooked. He went through his father’s entire tackle box of lures trying to solve the bass fishing puzzle.
When about 12 years old, Seth took a train to Chicago to visit an uncle who was a tournament bass fisherman. The uncle opened the door to more equipment and knowledge. By the time he was in high school, Seth was fishing five or six days a week crafting his bass fishing skills.
Seth attended college in Adrian at Siena Heights University where he played basketball and majored in sport and business management. Throughout his college years fishing remained his passion. He fished in local club events, the Bass Fishing League as a co-angler, and the FLW series where he had several top finishes. Seth has personally landed an 8-pound, 8-ounce largemouth in a tournament in Florida.
Seth did his required college internship at Bass Pro Shop where he later became the assistant manager of the fishing department. Seth began investigating ways he could turn his passion into a profession. He fished in tournaments for prize money and even won a couple of bass boats. He was now making a name for himself in the bass fishing world but sought a more stable career associated with fishing. In 2010 he became a regional merchandiser and pro staff member of Pradco Outdoor Brands.
Seth applied for the job as bass fishing coach at Adrian College prior to their start in February of 2015. The first time they met, athletic director Mike Duffy knew he had found his coach. Seth’s passion, drive, and work ethic were exactly what Adrian College was looking for to lead their bass fishing program. Seth’s fishing knowledge and his network of potential sponsors and partners made the decision to hire him easy.
In their first year of existence Seth guided the Adrian Bulldog bass fishing team to a number one national ranking (Cabela’s/ Association of Collegiate Anglers). Seth has also coached 10 students to All-American status and has had 32 national championship qualifying teams. Since their beginning the Bulldogs have been consistently highly ranked nationally. At the time of this writing they are currently ranked number one by the Association of Collegiate Anglers.
Bass fishing tournaments are sanctioned by three governing bodies at the collegiate level. They are the FLW (named after Forrest L. Wood, the founder of Ranger boats) B.A.S.S. or Bass Anglers Sportsman Society and Bass ProShops Association of Collegiate Anglers. Rules and scoring vary slightly depending on the sanctioning body. However, most tournaments are based on two fishermen in one boat as a team. The team fishes for one or three days (depending on the venue) and weighs in their five fish catch each day.
Adrian College sends four to seven teams to each tournament and will fish in twenty or more tournaments during the long season. Their season begins in February and goes through October. The tournaments are naturally in the southern states early in the year. Competitions move north as the weather warms through the spring and summer.
Coach Borton decides which of his anglers compete in what tournament based on their experience. Experience such as: Has the angler fished this lake before? Does the angler have the experience to identify the structure of the lake and where to find the big fish? Can the angler handle the boat in the predicted weather and lake conditions?
Coach Borton does give younger less experienced fishermen a chance at tournament fishing by holding team qualifying tournaments. However, for sanctioned tournaments he must put the boat and tackle in the hands of his most skilled and experienced anglers. Given the success of his team, he has been making the right decisions.
Adrian College has 30 anglers on their team. Half of these young men are from Michigan. The other half are from neighboring midwestern states (Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Kentucky and Iowa). One of their student athletes has come from as far as Montana. Recruiting fishermen from southern states is a challenge for northern schools such as Adrian. Southern anglers can and do fish year around, and typically are not fans of our severe winters. Many of the tournaments are held in southern states giving the southern fishermen and schools a “home field advantage.” These challenges make Adrian’s success and status as a national powerhouse even more remarkable. The club has four boats, trailers, all associated equipment and tackle. Sponsors provide some of the equipment and funds. More importantly, the sponsors provide invaluable name promotion and branding for the school leading to more sponsors and partnerships.
The ideal recruit will have the rare combination of skill, knowledge, and the competitive personality needed to be an elite angler. The same skill set required of any collegiate level athlete. Skills include boatmanship (can the angler keep the boat on fish in rough conditions?), accuracy in casting and presentation (can the angler cast a lure and drop it delicately in a coffee cup from 45 feet?). These skills are important.
Equally important is knowledge. The recruit must have knowledge needed to catch large bass: Where are the fish likely to be given the structure and cover of the lake? What lures and presentation will work best given the current water conditions and temperature? Where are we in the cosmic clock (the sun’s seasonal effect on water and wildlife)? The recruit must have some mechanical knowledge to keep the craft running and maintain the boats components.
According to Coach Borton the most important of the three traits is the competitive drive and spirit. The recruit must have that stick to it attitude that pushes him to practice fishing nine hours a day. They must have an attention to detail personality that all great fishermen and hunters have. It is this spirit that separates a competitive angler from a pleasure fisherman. Coach Borton claims he can tell quickly if a recruit has the attitude and experience needed to cut it as a successful collegiate angler. His advice to would be competitive fishermen is become a student of bass fishing and prepare yourself mentally. This is a much tougher sport than it appears.
Like most coaches, Borton says the most enjoyable part of his job is the relationships he has built with school administrators, students, sponsors and partners. Also, like most coaches Borton says his least favorite part of the job is the travel and time away from his young family. But, unlike most of us Seth Borton is making a living fulfilling his lifelong passion.
Athletic Director Mike Duffy is proud of his fishing team and coach Borton. He feels competitive fishing in high schools and colleges across the nation will continue to grow. He is also confident that bass fishing at Adrian College will someday become a varsity sport and continue to get better and better.
Congratulations to Mike, Seth, and their Bulldogs. Good luck in this current season and seasons to come.