BKW student hooks fishing scholarship

— Photo from Brad Ableman

Brad Ableman, a senior at Berne-Knox-Westerlo, holds up his catch. Ableman has recently earned a scholarship for bass fishing at Bethel University.

KNOX — Brad Ableman, who is 17, has been fishing since he was “old enough to cast a rod and reel,” and has wanted to be like the professional anglers he has followed over the years. Now, he’s getting that chance.

Ableman, a Berne-Knox-Westerlo student who is originally from Knox, recently moved to Latham. But he will be making a bigger move this fall, to McKenzie, Tennessee, when he starts his freshman year of college at Bethel University and joins the school’s bass-fishing team. He will be receiving a $14,000 scholarship from the school for joining the team; the scholarship amounts to $3,500 each year.

“I was impressed with his whole persona,” said the team’s coach, Garry Mason, describing his first interaction with Ableman.

Ableman said he has been fishing since about the age of 6. At first, his father would take him fishing, but he eventually began fishing on Black Lake in St. Lawrence County where his grandparents live. It was here that he met other fishermen and where he perfected his skills.

“I learned pretty much all sorts of techniques there,” he said.

Ableman said he will take a trip to go fishing whenever he has the free time. Although he may take his younger brother, Colin, fishing and teach him some techniques, or his best friend and long-time fishing partner, Luke, Ableman said he often goes out with a group of anglers aged 35 to 65.

“I’m younger than most of the guys,” he said. Although he described fishing as not something known as a “young man’s game,” Ableman said he doesn’t feel left out when fishing, but rather gets to pick up on his older fishing partners’ skills — and gets to hear them brag to others about his newly achieved scholarship.

Ableman grew up following professional bass fishers like Kevin Van Dam and Mike Iaconelli (who he once fished alongside at a tournament on Oneida Lake). The two anglers can be seen wearing baseball caps and jackets decked out in their sponsors’ logos like NASCAR drivers. Ableman said that, as a professional fisherman, it’s common practice to use and talk about fishing gear from sponsors. He said he is comfortable doing this, given its common practice.

Professionals like Van Dam and Iaconelli compete in tournaments like the Bassmaster Elite series. Ableman has competed in two Bassmaster Opens, a semi-professional tournament, on Oneida Lake in Oswego County. He has also gone to tournaments on Black Lake, the Radtke Bass Trail Tournament on the Hudson River in Catskill in Greene County, and Berry’s Tournament Trail at Lake Sinclair near Milledgeville, Georgia.

On a tournament day, he said, he typically rises early to drive about an hour to the location, meets his partner for the tournament and they launch a boat, and then enroll in the tournament, where they are checked for fish hidden in the boat and are drawn a number designating what time they’ll leave to fish.

His mother, Apryl Donato, recalls how she used to drive him to tournaments before he was able to go there himself, and how she would use social media to receive updates throughout the day.

“You don’t watch the way you do with other sports,” she said.

Once out on the water, the two anglers have eight hours to fish and keep five of their biggest bass alive in a livewell or bait tank onboard the boat. The fish are brought in and weighed at the end of the time period before being released.

Ableman said that one of the biggest obstacles during a tournament is weather. Although he usually fishes at the spot where the tournament will be located a few days before, weather can change the ways fish may behave or swim or even make it too hazardous to fish, sometimes canceling a tournament.

Ableman has also created instructional videos on both YouTube and Facebook, with tips and instructions on fishing techniques. He advises that the most important thing is not about technique.

“Time on the water is key,” he said. “The more you learn, the more you experience, the more you know.”

He added that techniques can be perfected only with enough time spent to know what works in different conditions and practice.

For those who want to follow his lead and compete collegiately, he advises to do well in school, compete in as many tournaments as possible, and network. Ableman networked with his videos on social media, but also called the coaches and universities himself, to ask about their fishing programs.

Mason agrees, saying he first looks for recruits with certain grade-point averages and standardized test scores, as well some experience and community service and experience with tournaments.

The tournaments, said Mason, allow anglers to perfect skills such as using depth readers and navigating a boat.

Ableman picked Bethel University, he said, because it is listed as the top school for competitive fishing. According to Mason, it is ranked second out of the 600 colleges and universities that compete for its fishing team.

It is also a small school, said Ableman, so the transition from a smaller rural school like BKW won’t be as extreme. The university is also located in the southeastern part of the country, where fishing is much more popular and much more commonplace, said Ableman. Here in Upstate New York, he notes, the weather prevents him from bass fishing year-round, although that doesn’t stop him from ice-fishing in the winter.

Ableman has also competed in varsity basketball and soccer. He also works at Veronica’s Restaurant in Altamont and will start a summer job with the village of Altamont’s Department of Public Works. When he has the time, he tries to get away to go fishing.


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