Kansans Noah Skolnick, Garrett Torres lead TCU to first fishing national championship

Salina angler, K-State teams finish in top 30

Josh Rouse
Topeka Capital-Journal
From left, TCU anglers Noah Skolnick and Garrett Torres, both Kansas natives, hold up the school's first fishing national championship trophy last weekend following the weigh-in for the 2021 Bass Pro Shops Collegiate Bass Fishing Series National Championship on South Carolina's Lake Murray.
  • Kansas natives lead TCU Horned Frogs fishing team to first national championship
  • Salina native Hunter Baird, teammate finish 13th for Drury
  • Pair of Kansas State University fishing teams finish in top 30

A pair of Kansas products guided the Texas Christian University fishing program to its first national championship this past weekend on South Carolina’s Lake Murray.

TCU’s Noah Skolnick, a Mission Hills native, and Garrett Torres, of Overland Park — both of whom competed in the Kansas BASS Nation and FLW high school fishing circuits — came away with the top prize May 26-27 during the 2021 Bass Pro Shops Collegiate Bass Fishing Series National Championship, college fishing’s longest-running national championship.

Skolnick and Torres sat in 15th place following the first day of fishing after posting a 13.53-pound bag, but jumped to the top spot on Day 2 with a huge bag of 18.98 that gave them a two-day weight of 32.51 pounds and the top prize of $5,000 — plus $500 for Skolnick as the winner of the Garmin Tournament Rewards.

Newberry College’s Tim Richardson and Gerard Kelly came in second with 31.79 pounds, followed by Tennessee’s Robert Gee and Chad Sentell in third with 31.66.

“Tournament was a grind,” Skolnick told The Topeka Capital-Journal. “We set out knowing that we just had to go fishing for the right five bites each day. My partner and I decided not to go chase bluebacks (herring) since we’ve never done it before and fished our strengths (deep brush).”

Skolnick said earning a national title was an amazing experience for them.

“To be a college national champion means everything,” Skolnick said. “This is the culmination of many years of hard work, many days on the water and many hours on the road. It is a surreal feeling that still hasn’t fully set in.”

His partner agreed with that assessment.

From left, TCU anglers Garrett Torres and Noah Skolnick hold up a limit of bass they caught en route to winning the 2021 Bass Pro Shops Collegiate Bass Fishing Series National Championship from May 26-27 on South Carolina's Lake Murray.

“Yeah, winning this tournament means the world to me and Noah,” Torres said. “We have grown up fishing high school KBN and FLW together like the high school team trail and opens on Table Rock and Lake of the Ozarks. We’ve had solid tournament finishes at regional division tournaments, with a second-place finish last year at an FLW high school open at Table Rock, but national tournaments have always posed troubles for us.”

He said their success this time around was a result of a lot of hard work and preparation ahead of time.

“We came into this tournament with an open mind, and studied everything from seasonal patterns to the recent weather down at Lake Murray to make a comprehensive strategy of how we were going to target the lake,” Torres said. “We knew we wanted to fish to our strengths, and with Lake of the Ozarks being our home lake, we decided to commit to offshore fishing brush piles. Just like Lake of the Ozarks and Table Rock, we began studying our navionics map looking for specific structure like creek channel bends and turns, mainlake humps, steep and long tapering points, flats and any other structure.”

After they located structure they liked, they set out scanning it, looking for cover where predatory fish such as bass could hide, such as brush, rock piles and artificial habitats called cane piles. Once they located the cover on the structure, Torres said, they began targeting those fish with a Garmin LiveScope.

“It was interesting, because in the gin-clear water Lake Murray boasts, we were able to catch fish on power lures like 10-inch worms and big football jigs, something that is very unconventional for Lake Murray," Torres said.

Usually, he explained, a drop shot rig or topwater walking bait are the main players on the southern lake.

Other Kansas notables

Kansas State anglers Austin Wiley, a Leavenworth product, and Sam Kennedy, of Overland Park, had a strong showing on the first day but fell apart at the end.

The Wildcat team entered the final day sitting in third place with 16.01 pounds, but fell to 27th on Day 2 with a bag of 6.03 for a two-day total of 22.04.

Their Wildcat teammates, Zach Vielhauer, of Shawnee, and Michael Mueting, of Lincoln, Neb., had the opposite luck. The 2020 Kansas BASS Nation college state champions finished 19th for the tournament with 23.71 pounds after making the climb from 77th place (7.66 pounds) on Day 1 — thanks to a 16.05-pound Day 2 bag — giving the Big 12 Conference three teams in the top 30.

Vielhauer has had previous national success with the Wildcats, winning the 2018 Bassmaster College Classic alongside Will Andrie.

Salina product Hunter Baird teamed with his Drury partner, Beau Browning, of Hot Springs, Ark., for the No. 22 spot after Day 1, totaling 12.38 pounds of fish. However, they moved into the top 15 on Day 2, posting 13.40 pounds for a two-day total of 25.78 and the 13th-place finish.

Baird won the 2015 TBF/FLW Kansas State High School Bass Fishing Championship alongside Nickolas Davenport while at Salina High School.

Drury’s Brock Bila, of Louisburg, and teammate Jack Rankin, of Springfield, Mo., blanked on Day 1, but moved into the top 50 on Day 2 with an impressive 18.48-pound bag good for 48th place. This spring, the Panther teammates posted a runner-up finish at the Association of Collegiate Anglers' Pickwick Slam.

Making the necessary adjustments

On the first day of practice, Skolnick and Torres looked to be in a good pattern, as they caught about 18 pounds, which would typically be a winning bag on the lake.

But, Torres said, the fish were in such an strong post spawn-to-summer transition that the anglers had to relocate them nearly every day. 

“We kept our heads down, and ran 15-20 spots with high-producing cover and made a lot of casts with not many bites, but the right ones for sure,” Torres said of their tournament-winning adjustments.

Torres said the Horned Frogs team caught most of their fish on a Zoom Ol’ Monster worm in plum with a 3/4-ounce bullet weight. The fish would eat the bait on the fall, so they stroked their rigs near and around the brush in order to produce a reaction bite.

Torres said they caught a handful of fish on a 150-size Evergreen Shower Blow topwater bait, as well as their big fish on the second day while dropshotting vertically with the LiveScope in about 30 feet of water.



Anglers, school ... Day 1 ... Day 2 ... Total

1. Skolnick/Torres, TCU ... 13.53 ... 18.98 ... 32.51

2. Richardson/Kelly, Newberry ... 16.49 ... 15.30 ... 31.79

3. Gee/Sentell, Tennessee ... 14.95 ... 16.71 ... 31.66

4. Gaddis/Cully, Carson-Newman ... 14.51 ... 15.03 ... 29.54

5. Yaden/Stephenson, Brewton-Parker ... 17.64 ... 11.68 ... 29.32

6. Woody/Digh, ECU ... 13.81 ... 14.24 ... 28.05

7. Young/Oveton, Blue Mountain ... 13.86 ... 14.17 ... 28.03

8. Ableman/Palmer, Bethel ... 10.24 ... 17.18 ... 27.42

9. Dachenbaus/Federer, Adrian ... 12.86 ... 14.14 ... 27.00

10. Martin/Harris, Dallas Baptist ... 14.12 ... 12.75 ... 26.87

11. Allen/Friesner, SIU-Edwardsville ... 12.20 ... 14.37 ... 26.57

12. Doty/Bleser, McKendree ... 11.10 ... 15.08 ... 26.18

13. Baird/Browning, Drury ... 12.38 ... 13.40 ... 25.78

14. Parks/Smith, Auburn ... 6.41 ... 19.22 ... 25.63

15. Cowan/Easter, Tartleton St. ... 10.27 ... 15.10 ... 25.37

16. Fernandes/Manneback, Adrian ... 12.99 ... 11.74 ... 24.73

17. Milligan/Mundhenke, Auburn ... 12.85 ... 11.36 ... 24.21

18. Gregory/Mullins, Bethel ... 11.95 ... 11.93 ... 23.88

19. Vielhauer/Mueting, Kansas State ... 7.66 ... 16.05 ... 23.71

20. McCormick/Roberts, Bethel ... 11.13 ... 12.29 ... 23.42

21. Pennington/Denton, N. Alabama ... 10.76 ... 12.44 ... 23.20

22. Dowler/Pendergrass, N. Alabama ... 10.04 ... 12.85 ... 22.89

23. Vega/Gideon, Sam Houston St. ... 8.88 ... 13.61 ... 22.49

24. McKinney/Jackson, McKendree ... 13.42 ... 9.06 ... 22.48

25. Gill/Frasure, Wabash Valley ... 10.29 ... 11.94 ... 22.23

26. Compton/Bond, Clemson ... 9.02 ... 13.14 ... 22.16

27. Wiley/Kennedy, Kansas State ... 16.01 ... 6.03 ... 22.04

28. Keese/Davis, Tarleton St. ... 6.80 ... 15.19 ... 21.99

29. Peznola/Byerly, Tennessee ... 10.71 ... 11.22 ... 21.93

30. Breeden/Smith, Drury ... 11.63 ... 10.11 ... 21.74

Other notables — 48. Bila/Rankin, Drury, 18.48.