Dayton, Tenn. – It's another memorable year in the books for the Bryan Lions Fishing Team, as they casted their way to achieving a goal the anglers set after their inaugural 2014-15 season. In just their first year in existence, the Lion anglers set a surprising bar for themselves as they sealed an 18th place finish in the running for Cabela's School of the Year. Head Bryan Fishing Coach, Mike Keen, and the rest of the team entered into this year knowing that it was possible to crack the top-10 in the competition, and that's exactly what they did as they finished No. 6 in the nation.
On March 11-12, the Lions traveled to Kentucky Lake to compete in the Cabela's Big Bass Bash, and thanks to strong finishes from sophomores Caleb Luzader (5.46 lbs.) and Connor Fogg (4.97 lbs.), Bryan chipped in 778 points in the School of the Year contest to slide into 6th place. The total points earned by Bryan was more than this year's School of the Year winner, University of Alabama, was able to produce (755).
The Lions continued to dominate as they took advantage of another opportunity for a large quantity of points as Bryan scored the second highest amount of points in the Dardanelle Derby. The 176 points that the Lions tallied was good enough to claim a No. 2 ranking nationally. Chase Kanute, Connor Thompson, AJ Barnes, and Cole Sands made up the team who had a 12.52 lbs. day-one weight and a 16.30 lbs. day-two weight for an impressive 6th place finish.
Another notable tournament was when the team of Dylan Kear and Nathan Bell not only aided the Lions with 189 points to go towards the running of Cabela's School of the Year, locking in 3rd place in the competition, but the 14th spot secured by Kear and Bell at the FLW Open on Apr. 1-2 qualified the two for the FLW National Championship.
The key to success this year for the team is the true consistency they have shown all season. "We were consistently in the top 10-20 percent in each tournament we fished," said Keen. "It's impossible to lift up just a single angler, because in every tournament somebody different stepped up and put us where we needed to be."
The Lion Anglers did a lot more traveling this year, spanning from Crescent Lake, Fla. all the way to Lake Dardanelle in Ark., which has helped the team tremendously as it allows Bryan to fish in more tournaments in the three major trails: Cabela's, BASS, and FLW. Two of Bryan's toughest opponents include the University of Alabama (2015-16 winner) and the University of North Alabama (2013-14 & 2014-15 winner), but some could say they have a leg up as three major tournaments were fished in their backyard.
The experience the Bryan Fishing Team has gained over this year helps prepare them for an even better finish for the 2016-17 season. Keen explained, "This being only our 2nd year, our guys have grown in confidence. We are no longer the new kids on the block, but we belong. In our first year, we were solely proud to be there, but now we are proud and expecting to do well. It will carry over into the next year, and it certainly helps to be bringing in talented anglers."
Keen mentioned that he is extremely proud of all the guys, because they are the ones who made the top-10 goal even possible since they are doing all the fishing. "We are very pleased to be this high up in the rankings, especially considering there are no divisions in fishing, so we are fishing against every college in the nation that has a fishing team," stated Keen. "The future is bright for our team, and we are determined to continue fishing at the highest level with the help of several quality recruits."
The new recruits for the upcoming season include Jake Lee and Bryson Elliot of Knox-Karns, Michael Tipton and Jacob Fouts of Walker Valley, Matt Brown of Corbin High School (Ky.), Connor Cohran of Dalton High School (Ga.), and Hunter Thrasher of Lincoln County High School (Ga.).
The University of Alabama took the crown of Cabela's School of the Year (2,016 pts.), while the University of North Alabama came in 2nd (1,968 pts.) followed by Murray State University (1,942 pts.), McKendree University (1,932 pts.), and Mississippi State (1,932 pts.) to round out the top-5.