Reel Success

Stephen Lutz, founder of the sport of collegiate bass fishing, takes it easy at Walnut Point State Park near Oakland, Ill., in April. (Darrell Hoemann Photography)
Stephen Lutz helps spawn a new sport—collegiate bass fishing.

Stephen Lutz, MS ’74 AHS, who grew up fishing with his father for bluegill, bass and redear sunfish near Paris, Ill., caught his first fish at the age of 5. He’s been hooked ever since.

As he grew older, the idea of creating a collegiate bass fishing league, along the lines of Big Ten sports, simmered in his brain as he joined the U.S. Air Force and then attended the University of Illinois, thanks to the GI Bill. “I knew the best park and recreation [program] in the world was at the University of Illinois,” says Lutz. “That’s one of the proudest things I have in my life,” he says of his UI degree.

Eventually, Lutz established a fishing team at Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind., and, in 1992, organized the first-ever collegiate bass fishing tournament (“The Old Minnow Bucket”) against Purdue. Shortly after that, Lutz had to return home to Paris, and that was that, as far as he knew.

A self-described man of the Sixties, Lutz has no telephone answering machine, much less a computer. So it was only a couple of years ago, when a friend Googled Lutz, that he learned that the little spark of his dream had ignited a conflagration. Collegiate bass fishing now boasts more than 600 registered clubs (including one at Illinois), hundreds of thousands of dollars in prizes and massive coverage by the media, including ESPN and The New York Times.

Members of the UI Bass Fishing Club are riding their own wave of success. They recently placed third out of 194 teams in the Fishing League Worldwide College Fishing Open on Kentucky Lake, earning them a berth in the 2016 FLW College Fishing National Championship.

Despite losing touch with most of his graduate school friends and grieving the deaths of many relatives, Lutz maintains a Jimmy Stewart-like positivity. “I’ve had a wonderful life,” says the friendly fisherman with a smile.