Fishing is a pastime enjoyed around the world, but for MSU students, the experience has defined their college experience.
Michigan State University sophomore Matt Dillion has never known a life without fishing. His first trip happened when he was a baby, tagging along with his father. By the time he was 10, he was sitting in the boat with his dad, as the all-too familiar whirl of the fishing line sinking into the water sounding like music to his ears.
Dillion also grew up playing soccer, but fishing had a special place in his heart.
And that is what drew him to join the Michigan State Fishing Club. The student group has been around since 1997, welcoming all students and skill levels. It’s a group of 50 members this year, with 22 sophomores, five freshmen, 11 juniors and 11 seniors – even a graduate student.
“We have a cabin up north by the Les Cheneaux Islands, near Cedarville (Michigan),” Dillon, a native of Plymouth, Michigan, said. “So, I’ve been going up there with my family ever since I was born and I guess that’s what got me into fishing … my dad was probably the most influential factor since we could always go out on the boat, I caught my first bass up there and no pun intended by that’s what got me hooked.”
Line and sinker, too, it seems. For Dillon, the sports blend of competitiveness and tranquility is one that fits his personality, he said.
Its members, like Dillon – who also serves as the executive board secretary – compete across Michigan in angling tournaments. They compete for prize money where whoever and however you can catch the most and largest fish is the determining factor for who wins. The MSU club, in normal years, fishes in Kentucky Lakes, Tennessee and all over the western and northern parts of the Lower Peninsula.
For some, it is all about the relaxation. For other’s, it’s the thrill of setting the hook on the species they haven’t caught or the largemouth bass they just couldn’t get earlier in the morning.
“It’s an obsession,” club president Garrett Mandel said. “It’s not even a passion at this point or anything, it’s just an obsession.”
Mandel became president of the club because it was his turn. He wanted to give back to the organization that gave so much to him.
“Literally, all I do is fish,” Mandel said, reminiscing on his years with the club. “It’s pretty much been the main thing I’ve done (be a member of the club) through college. When I look back on college, I’m just going think about the Fishing Club and think about the fishing tournaments. We have a really good group of guys and girls in the club.”
The club still meets in the way deemed safest during a pandemic: over zoom once a week, members still pay their $40 dues for the whole calendar year. It isn’t the same, but with no in-person classes members are able to get out and fish more.
“Now, it’s like (fishing) probably the wrong word but it’s my full-on therapy,” senior and treasurer Brandon Drzazgowski said. “I talk a lot because I think a lot, so I’m always racing around, I’m always trying to get homework done: do this, do that. But when fishing, this is the only thing that I’m doing right now … it’s a place where I can kind of put all my focus and … reset.”
Drzazgowski’s fondest memory of the four years is surprisingly one you likely would want to forget: Getting rain dumped on him and his buddy as their boat broke down on Kentucky Lake in Tennessee during the 2019 tournament season. He never thought he would be dry again and the boat broke down. But that doesn’t matter, not when he thinks back on it now.
It’s a memory that was forged because he just decided to join a club with people that enjoy the sport of angling as much as he does.
“It rained, I lost one of the biggest fish of my life … of course I did, right? We got towed four hours back in the pouring rain and it rained so hard it went through my coat. At the time I was miserable but now I look back on it and man, it was a good time.”
They we’re passed down a sport that defined four years of their life that often all college students experience major life events and meet people they will remain friends with for life. That’s what the club and this sport gave the members of this one at MSU.
And Drzazgowski just knows, “that’s the beauty of fishing.”