A standout in a little-known college sport, Kevin Hollasch has a big challenge on the Chesapeake Bay this Saturday: Qualify for the Fishing League Worldwide College Fishing Northern Conference Invitational.
Forty-five teams will compete to land the biggest largemouth bass at Anchor Bay Marina in North East. The event is the second of three competitions leading up to the invitational; Hollasch and partner Hunter Chamberlin first competed in May and will finish at New York's Chautauqua Lake in August.
Two-member teams will leave the dock at 6:30 a.m. and return around noon for the weigh-in to determine the winner. The top prize is $2,000 and, more important, a guaranteed berth in the Northern Conference Invitational. The 15 teams with the heaviest five-fish hauls will advance.
Students competing in the event come from all over the Mid-Atlantic, but Hollasch, 22, of Marriottsville, will be the lone competitor from Maryland. Rising seniors at Shippensburg, Hollasch and partner Hunter Chamberlin hope to bounce back after placing 32nd at Virginia's Smith Mountain Lake two months ago.
"Last tournament, there was a lot of sight fishing, and what we had found in practice changed a lot — the fish moved off the beds," Hollasch said. "This time, we're going to practice more and hopefully find some fish that'll hold."
Hollasch, who graduated from Liberty High in 2010, originally went to Shippensburg to play soccer, but he decided to try competitive fishing in 2012. He's had great success so far, coming in first place in two competitions last year before finishing 11th in the invitational. Having grown up fishing around the Chesapeake Bay, Hollasch said he feels a little more comfortable with this event.
"While I mostly fish in reservoirs, I've fished the Potomac as well, and that's pretty similar to the Chesapeake Bay, so that should help," Hollasch said.
Unlike his first event, at Smith Mountain Lake, Saturday's competition will be out on the open water of the bay. Hollasch understands that the tide and marshier environment will require a different approach.
"Tides are going to be a big difference, and the bay has large grass flats, so both of those are going to play a big role," Hollasch said. "You need to be able to read the tides to know where the fish are going to be. And with the grass flats, an important strategy will be to use a fake frog lure in order to attract fish to shallower areas."
Rallying from behind is a familiar position for Hollasch and his partner, who placed 30th in the opening competition last year before coming in first in the next two events. Hollasch believes a catch of about 18 total pounds from the five-fish maximum likely will be enough to win Saturday.
"If we don't get top 15, we don't get to move on, so this is really important," Hollasch says. "We really only got one chance to practice for the last event, which really hurt us. This time, Hunter and I are definitely going to be better prepared and hopefully catch some bigger fish."