Fishing club catches on at UW-Whitewater
He isn't alone, but Jared Matacynski has been a lifelong fisherman thanks to his father.
“I grew up around it … my dad was a big walleye fisherman,” said Matacynski, a Wausau West graduate who has spent a lot of time on the Wisconsin River. “But when I was 6 or 7, I saw these guys in a bass tournament on TV and learned you could go pro. So, I've had a passion for bass fishing ever since.”
He and about 40 other dues-paying members form the Fishing Club at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Matacynski is the organization's vice president and one of about 15 guys who are the most active and regularly participate in weekend trips during the fall and spring seasons. They then compete in tournaments against other schools around the Midwest during the summer.
Members will pursue just about anything from walleye to musky and salmon. However, the prey of choice for most serious members is bass.
Matacynski's tournament partner is club president Steve Nebel, a senior from Inverness, Illinois, who has been fishing since age 2 or 3.
Nebel's older brother, Jack, graduated from UW-Whitewater in 2015 and got Steve hooked on the school's fishing club upon the latter's arrival on campus.
“We started at local ponds and lakes while growing up, and we would go up to the lake home near Twin Lakes and fish on Elizabeth Lake or down to the reservoirs in the southern half of Illinois,” Nebel said. “Jack participated in the (UW-W) club all four years, but he did it mostly for the fun and camaraderie. He didn't get into the competitive side as much as me.
“Jack told me all about the club and it really sparked my interest, especially in tournament fishing,” Nebel added. “So I started going out a lot and really enjoyed it much more. I made good progress and learned a lot, especially about bass fishing.”
Members have fished at sites such as Lake Pewaukee, Oconomowoc, Lake Wisconsin, the Winnebago and Madison chains, Delavan Lake and Geneva Lake, while their home port, of course, is Whitewater Lake.
“We go pretty much anywhere within two hours of Whitewater,” Nebel said. “We typically go on Sundays from mid-September through late October or early November and then April through the end of school, so we get in about 12 tournaments. Then in the summer we compete in bigger tournaments against other schools throughout the Midwest.”
The club receives $500 in state funding every year, which means it has to be self-sufficient to accumulate around $3,000 to pay for equipment, entry fees and travel expenses. Besides dues, members conduct fundraisers, featuring the annual February fisheree headquartered at Double D's Pub on Lake Beulah. And they have established several sponsorship deals in which they promote outdoor/recreational businesses in exchange for discounted equipment.
Junior Collin Cropp of Janesville and senior Jalen Riddle of Beloit also were introduced to fishing at a young age. But joining the UW-W club has taken their hobby to another level.
“I remember going out with my dad and grandparents just for fun and to have a good time,” Cropp said. “But when I was a freshman here, there was a guy on my dorm floor (Mitch Van Ert of Watertown) who was a big bass fisherman. So I joined and I've fallen in love with it.”
In addition to school and a full-time job, Cropp still finds time to get his favorite baits in the water.
“I get out as often as I can on my off days,” he said. “I even get up to my grandparents' place up on Lake Chetek and do some pan fishing when I can. I like to get out to have fun and keep trying new things.”
Still, bass are his favorite target.
“What I like about bass fishing is that they're so aggressive and attack the bait,” Cropp said. “There's so much more to it than just fishing. You have to try different strategies from day to day because of the weather. You learn where to go and what baits to try, variations in water levels. But I'm consistently catching more and bigger fish. And our club is growing, and that's exciting.”
Riddle agreed. He is an environmental science major who hopes to become a game warden some day.
His love for fishing grew from his peaceful outings with his father, Willie, on the Rock River and lagoon in Beloit.
“I got hooked at an early age,” he said. “I was lucky to have the river right there. Then when I was 13, a guy (Dan Ainger) let me go out with him in his boat and I learned more about bass fishing. When I was a freshman I had a connection to the fishing club because Tyler Zimmerman of Roscoe was there. I pretty much only knew how to fish a certain way, but being with the club opened my eyes to a lot of different things. I've grown more comfortable and confident.”
Riddle's largest catch was a 7-pound smallmouth in Lake Michigan off Door County. Meanwhile, Matacynski and Nebel have 5-pound plus bass to their credit — and they're continuing their hunt for one bigger and better.
Matacynski hopes to qualify for the professional bass tour.
“I do want to try the competitive side while I'm younger,” said Matacynski, who's majoring in entrepreneurship. “It's not cheap, but I'm going to chase that dream with the idea I can get into the business side of a career later. I've started making connections through tournaments.”
For now, he and Nebel continue to work on their craft.
“I like to fish fast … cast and retrieve and use crank baits a lot,” Matacynski said. “Jared likes to work a little slower. I remember when we went to the tournament at Table Rock (Missouri) and he only had two rods with him. Now, he's got all kinds of equipment, and he's become much more intense like me. So, I think we complement each other and bounce ideas off each other well. We've made nationals the last two years.”