May 07, 2018

SIU brothers earn spot in national fishing tournament

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Brothers Jake and Kyle Wagner have sailed to a berth in a national fishing competition while pursuing engineering degrees at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

The Waterloo High School graduates earned a top five finish at the recent Fishing League Worldwide (FLW) Yeti College Fishing Central Conference bass tournament at Lake Barkley, Ky., and in doing so, qualified for the 2019 FLW College Fishing National Tournament.

Four “keepers” were enough

Despite very difficult conditions, the Wagners reeled in four “keeper” bass weighing a total of 12 pounds, 12 ounces. That was enough to secure a fifth place finish among nearly 90 competing teams.

“The fishing at Kentucky Lake was extremely tough. We both had to keep each other’s spirits up throughout the whole day,” Kyle said. He noted that they fished the lake a couple days before to test the waters.

Their game plan, which ultimately proved successful, was to “capitalize on our pattern” and “keep our heads down and grind it out.” Their “weapons” of choice were heavy willow leaf spinner baits thrown along steep rip rap banks and they caught their prize-winning haul during the last two hours of fishing.

As if it wasn’t already tough enough, another major tournament launched 250 boats near their ramp as the college tournament was winding down.

 “Jake and I have a blast when we are fishing together and are always joking with each other throughout the day,” Kyle said. “I really think that’s how we were able to keep focused on catching fish, because we didn’t let the stress of the tough conditions get us down.”

Repeat honors for Kyle

This is Kyle’s third trip to the national tourney.

He previously won the right to participate in the 2017 national contest in partnership with Mason Bishop of Goreville and claimed a spot in the 2016 championships with Steve Seiler of Mokena.

Saluki Bassers RSO helped brothers compete together

Getting to compete together at the top level has long been a goal for Kyle and Jake, who are lifelong fishermen. In fact, when deciding what college they wanted to attend, it was important to both that their university of choice have a great engineering program and a fishing team.

Both have been members of the Saluki Bassers registered student organization throughout their time at SIU. Kyle has been safety officer and president and is currently the group’s treasurer.

The Saluki Bassers are supported by donations and personal funding. Team sponsors include Strike King, Vexan Fishing and Tackle Warehouse. Individual sponsors include Lunker Lure-Hawg Caller Inc. and Dupo Marine Center.

SIU facilitates dreams on and off the water

The brothers, sons of John and Julie Wagner, are also pursuing their passions off the water at SIU. Kyle will graduate May 12 with a degree in civil engineering with specialization in environmental engineering. Jake is a sophomore mechanical engineering and energy processes major.

They’ve found both the educational and fishing opportunities they sought at SIU, they say.

In addition to being involved in various organizations, Jake is also a research assistant in the Intelligent Measurement and Evaluation Lab.

Kyle has already secured a job in his field. He’s moving to Evansville, Ind., where he’ll start work June 4 as an environmental engineer with Peabody Energy. 

Whenever they can find the time, the brothers Wagner are practicing and preparing to face the fierce competition of the national championship fishing meet.

Championships in spring

The national championship will take place in May 2019, at a location yet to be determined, but, likely in the southern part of the country.

There are a total of 16 different regional qualifying tournaments across the country. The Wagners competed in the Central Conference, which also features tourneys at Lake of the Ozarks and on the Mississippi River in Wabasha, Minn.

The big show will see approximately 160 boats vying for championship bragging rights.

“We are really excited to be heading to nationals together,” Jake said.

Kyle and Jake Wagner

Kyle and Jake Wagner