For Jason Felter, a day on the lake is a game of cat and mouse. Although, depending on which lake he’s at and what he’s chasing, it might be a game of catfish and mouse.
Felter, a Mountain View High senior, is a fisherman. And while he dabbles in all types of angling, his passion is bass fishing. As he stood on his boat at Lake Lowell in Nampa on Wednesday, he reflected on how that passion led him down an unlikely path to college.
Earlier that afternoon, he signed a National Letter of Intent to join the bass fishing team at Bethel University, the top-ranked program in the country. Bethel has one of more than 400 competitive college bass fishing teams, but fewer than 10 of those offer financial aid to compete, according to Bethel bass fishing head coach Garry Mason.
Bethel, in McKenzie, Tenn., started its program in 2009 and was the first to offer bass fishing scholarships upon its inception.
Felter earned a partial scholarship for $7,500 per year, which is on the higher end of the athletic scholarships for the sport Mason said. He is believed to be the first Idaho angler to receive a scholarship to join a college team, his father, Thomas, said.
“I got the offer about two months ago. It was pure excitement. I couldn’t stop smiling,” said Felter, who played on Mountain View’s state championship football team. “I’ve just been smiling from ear to ear since then.”
Because of Bethel’s prowess in the sport, recruiting isn’t difficult: The fishermen come to Mason. The school recruits up to 10 anglers a year and awards each some sort of scholarship, Mason said. Upon meeting Felter, the two hit it off.
“(He’s) bright-eyed and full of spirit,” Mason said. “You can just look in this young man’s eyes, and you can just see something in them.”
Bethel, an NAIA team for most other sports, competes in bass fishing against the toughest competition. At many schools, it’s a club sport. The team competes in three different tournament organizations: the FLW (Fishing League Worldwide), B.A.S.S. (Bass Anglers Sportsman Society) and Cabela’s Collegiate Bass Fishing.
What separates bass fishing from other sports is that there are no tiered divisions. A school like Alabama can compete against Bethel, and Bethel can win.
“We’re competing against SEC teams, Pac (12) teams. ... Not only are we competing against them, we’re beating them. That’s huge for a small west Tennessee university,” Mason said.
Felter learned to fish from his father when the family lived in Southern California. The younger Felter is a two-time high school state champion and quickly outgrew his father’s skill level.
“It started with pond fishing,” Thomas Felter said. “I enjoy fishing. I’m just not as good as him.”
Collecting trophies and accolades isn’t what keeps Jason Felter going. It’s the strategy itself that keeps him engaged.
When going to a new lake, Felter researches details such as water temperature and trends. He knows that, depending on the season, the fish might be in a different spot. It’s similar to watching an opponent’s film.
The difference is his opponents have fins.
“There’s actually a lot behind it. And it’s surprising to a lot of people that it takes that much to actually catch a bass,” Felter said.
Felter said he frequently finds himself explaining to people that what he does is more than a hobby; it is something that defines his life. And, rather than being upset that he isn’t recognized like a star quarterback might, he enjoys sharing his knowledge.
“A lot of people don’t know about it, so its cool to show them that this actually is a sport and, if you love fishing, you can actually chase it.”
While the odds of getting a fishing scholarship might not have been in his son’s favor, Thomas Felter couldn’t be prouder of what his son has accomplished.
The future looks pretty good, too.
“(I’m)just super proud of him and excited for the opportunities, because what could grow out of this, obviously still finish his degree and go to college but have a an opportunity to pursue it even further and be a professional,” Thomas Felter said. “Not many guys get that opportunity. I’m very proud of him.”
Yes, you can get a scholarship for that
You already know that football, basketball and volleyball programs offer scholarships. This isn’t a comprehensive list, but here are other sports in which athletes can earn scholarships and a few of the schools that offer them.
▪ Table Tennis: Lindenwood and Wesleyan
▪ eSports (competitive video gaming): Robert Morris, University of Pikeville, Columbia College
▪ Ultimate Frisbee: North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Winona State
▪ Rodeo: College of Southern Idaho, Montana, Oklahoma State
▪ Skiing/snowboarding: College of Idaho, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah
▪ Bowling: Louisiana Tech, Nebraska, Vanderbilt
Some scholarship data from ScholarshipStats.com.