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Friends fish their way through college

Local anglers reminisce about their time on university’s fishing team

Staff writer

Cramming for tests, making it to class on time, and figuring out which fishing lure would snag a largemouth bass were the unusual topics of concern for two local anglers who both competed on Kansas State University’s fishing team while college students.

Aaron Barney, 32, graduated from K-state almost a decade ago. He passed his love for competitive fishing on to his friend, Grant Srajer, 22, and encouraged him to follow in his footsteps.

Srajer, thankful he followed his friend’s advice, recently hung his hat on a four-year career with the team.

Both men are Tampa natives and Centre graduates.

“I appreciate Aaron getting me into it,” Srajer said.

“I used to work for his dad” Barney said. “That’s how he got started fishing.”

Barney also was Srajer’s coach before Srajer competed at the collegiate level.

“Aaron talked me into joining the 1-70 Bass Club out of Junction City,” Srajer said. “He was our coach for the high school tournaments.”

K-state’s fishing team technically is a club sport; just like many sanctioned sports, teamwork, patience, and honing specific skills are components of the experience.

“They give away some pretty nice prizes at some of the tournaments,” Srajer said. “I would like to see it someday become a D1 sport. Some schools do pay for the kids’ college actually.”

The former student fishermen say their experiences were similar although a decade apart.

“There weren’t any tryouts or anything,” Barney said. “Back then, you were paired with a partner. It was the luck of the draw for every tournament, but it’s changed since then.”

Like Barney, Srajer simply showed up with his boat and an eagerness to reel in the next adrenaline rush. Tournaments, however, are organized slightly differently. Students now fish with a partner of their choice for the duration of the season.

Scholarships are not typically available, but trips are paid for.

“The top three going to nationals got a paid trip,” Barney said. “The school didn’t pay you, but the club would pay you from fundraisers that they did.”

Proceeds from T-shirts sold online at ksufishingteam.com benefit the club. The shirts accredit the team for three national championship titles they hold from 2012, 2016, and 2017.

A cash prize is up for grabs for those who reel in the most weight, but winners reimburse the team for the trip before pocketing any of the prize.

All tournaments are largemouth, smallmouth, or spotted bass, caught with artificial bait only.

Srajer, who was treasurer of the club, received a finance degree in May and soon will move to Chattanooga with his wife of two weeks, Shelby. He will be working at a global food processing and commodities trading corporation.

Barney will continue his career as a farm hand, plugging through harvest as he and his wife, Brandi, raise their two children.

The bonding the two men have shared through fishing extends beyond competitions, sponsors, and trophies.

Barney will miss the kid he molded into what appears to be the ultimate fishing buddy.

“We’re going to try and get together to fish one more time before he heads out,” he said. “He is a brother to me deep down.”

Last modified June 14, 2018

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