Lower Burrell native signs with top collegiate bass fishing school

Wednesday, May 6, 2020 | 6:06 PM

When Lower Burrell native Austin Aikins started fishing, he never could have imagined how his future would pan out.

But the Central Catholic senior is ecstatic with how it has.

While some high school athletes are looking for a college scholarship in sports such as football, baseball or basketball, Aikins is one of the top bass fishermen in Pennsylvania.

He was an honorable mention selection to the 2020 Bassmaster High School All-State fishing team the past two years, and in March, Aikins signed a letter of intent to continue his bass fishing career at one of the top programs in the country: Bethel University.

In 2010, the McKenzie, Tenn., school became the first to offer scholarships to its anglers, and it has won the Collegiate Bass Fishing Championship the past two seasons.

“Honestly, it does not feel real,” Aikins said. “When I started tournament fishing, I was thinking it would be awesome to get a scholarship from any school. Then, to get a scholarship to the No. 1 school, it kind of feels surreal.”

Aikins drew the attention of Bethel Garry Mason when he was competing at the Big Bass Junior Championships in October. Aikins said college coaches normally keep track of top recruits by following a performance-based points system in their individual states through organizations such as B.A.S.S and F.L.W.

However, Mason saw Aikins compete in person.

“He was out on a boat watching us fish and everything, and that was how I met him,” Aikins said. “I was talking to him, and he offered me the scholarship. I mean, he can pick whoever he wants. It was breathtaking. It was incredible.”

Aikins, who also works at the Allegheny Bait and Tackle shop in Natrona, said receiving the offer was a dream come true because, for a while, he thought nothing would come from his love for the sport.

“The first time I went out, I was hooked, I guess you could say,” Aikins said. “Now, it’s turned into my life pretty much. I never thought it would happen. I always watched bass tournaments on Saturdays on ESPN, and I always wanted to be a professional fisherman. But then as I got older, I kind of just thought it was a kid dream. It was never going to happen. Now, I actually have a shot at it.”

Aikins started fishing when he was 6 or 7 years old. He saw it as another way to spend time with his dad. But over time, Aikins slowly started to realize he was improving every time he went out.

On occasion, he would show up to a watering hole where a bunch of older men were fishing. They would slowly drop off after not being able to catch anything and allow Aikins to cast his reel. Then, Aikins would start reeling in fish left and right.

“Some of the guys would kind of get mad, but that’s when I realized that I could catch more fish than grown men,” Aikins said.

A lot goes into being a successful angler, and Aikins developed a routine. He scouted the water and spent two or three days fishing there before a competition. But he also is always watching everything when he picks up his rod: from the water depth and temperature to what the fish are eating at that time of year. It all comes into play.

“It’s all this different stuff,” Aikins said. “I break it down to a science. I also read a bunch of biology reports on a bunch of fish to figure out what they do and how they do it. Then, I just put it all together.”

Aikins has used that science all over Pennsylvania and beyond. He said most of his high school tournaments take place in the eastern side of the state, near Philadelphia and the Poconos, and he also travels to Erie, New York and Ohio to fish and hunt, as well. Sometimes he goes further.

Aikins travels so much for the sport that he and his dad had to buy a new truck.

“I’m making monthly payments on it, and he co-signed for it, but we got it with about 9,000 miles on it and pretty much all I do is take that truck fishing,” Aikins said. “There are about 90,000 miles on it now, and we’ve had it for a little over a year.”

Luckily for Aikins, he’ll still have an opportunity to make money from fishing in college. Since bass fishing isn’t affiliated with the NCAA, anglers can earn money from fishing. Also, while most schools rule that any winnings must get funneled back through their program, Bethel allows their anglers to pocket any winnings.

“It’s pretty cool,” Aikins said. “Some of these tournaments for college are pretty big money. I’m pretty excited. I’m pumped. I can’t wait to start the next chapter in my life.”

Although it is unclear when school might start and when he will get to fish in his first tournament for Bethel, Aikins said he is excited about the future. In the meantime, he will be on the water preparing for it.

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@triblive.com or via Twitter .


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