Isaac Payne, SCAD bass
fishing team head coach,
was a former drill sergeant
in the U.S. Marine Corps
before graduating from
SCAD in 2015.
(Photo courtesy of SCAD)
In some ways, coaching a college bass fishing team like the one Isaac Payne leads for Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Ga., is similar to any other collegiate sporting endeavor.
But in other ways, it is quite different than the work that the likes of Nick Saban and others do for something like a powerhouse NCAA college football program.
For starters, as good as Saban is at leading the University of Alabama football team to the pinnacle of the sport on Saturday afternoons each fall, he didn't invent the Crimson Tide pigskin program from scratch.
But Payne did just that with the SCAD Bass Fishing Team, helping to start the program while a student at the Georgia college.
"While at SCAD, I started a club fishing team, but back then, there were only a handful of students who were serious about the sport and competed in tournaments," he said.
Since those days, the sport of collegiate bass fishing has grown – exploded, some would say – to the point where many colleges and universities now have club teams all across the country.
And a few like SCAD go as far as making competitive bass fishing a varsity sport at their particular institution.
Payne, a former drill sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps, has been a part of that upward spiral in recent years after graduating from SCAD in 2015 with a degree in industrial design.
"After graduation, I tried my hand at jumpstarting my own brand of lures, while the fishing club at SCAD continued to grow in popularity," said Payne. "Then one day, SCAD's vice president of student success called me and asked if I would be interested in interviewing for the job."
As in the job of becoming the first official bass fishing coach, an opportunity that Payne jumped at. After saying yes to the job offer, he was hired in August 2015 as SCAD's first head men's and women's fishing coach.
"It's been to SCAD's credit that they were willing to take collegiate fishing to the next level," said Payne. "SCAD is making history with this team."
A team Payne had to recruit and develop from the ground up in order to get a team ready to compete on the water during the current collegiate year.
In some cases, he didn't have to do much to get an angler into the SCAD bass fishing program.
"Before SCAD started an official fishing team, there was a fishing club, so I joined that," said Katie Connolly, a junior from Baltimore, Md., and a current SCAD team member. "And Coach Payne helped me become an angler."
In other cases, there has been a little bit more of the traditional recruiting effort that college sports fans are used to seeing elsewhere.
"How did I come to SCAD? Well, Coach Payne reached out to me," said freshman Laura Ann Foshee, a 20-year-old team member who was a high school fishing prodigy while growing up in the Birmingham, Ala., area.
"SCAD is an art and design university, and I've been drawing and interested in graphic design my entire life," added Foshee. "I visited SCAD and then for the official signing, I came the second time and my folks came with me. It is beautiful (here)."
Sometimes, the recruiting of a SCAD team member is more of the angler reaching out to the coach.
"I reached out to Coach Payne once I heard there was a fishing team here," said Alexis Joyce, a 19-year-old South Carolina freshman at SCAD. "I was already planning to come here and I thought 'I have to be on the fishing team!'"
What is Payne looking for when recruiting or developing a fishing athlete for SCAD?
"I want to make sure to recruit people who fit together," he said. "I look for well-rounded individuals. I look at each individual's passion for the sport of fishing.
"That shows in the form of how well they fish, use of equipment and their knowledge of the sport. Are they out on the water every chance they get? Are they dreaming about the sport when time doesn't allow them to go fishing?"
Payne got a solid glimpse of that in the fall of 2016 as the team practiced and developed prior to their first competitive efforts.
While the entrance into collegiate bass fishing competitions is exciting, Payne stresses that academics trumps competition at SCAD, varsity sport or not.
"Academics are essential," he said. "You're going to SCAD to get your education and fish, not just to be an angler. SCAD is the preeminent art and design university, so the key is to see all the students I recruit evolve as artist-anglers."
"The one goal I set is simple," Payne added. "Do well in the classroom and you'll do well on the water."
That being said, as a varsity athletics program, the SCAD fishing team also wants to compete well and succeed in tournament competition as their first year of actual events unfolds.
One way that Payne promotes that idea is by giving anglers the opportunity to be very involved in the overall process from boat preparation to travel planning to tournament game planning.
And of course, each angler takes care of their own personal fishing gear.
"Everyone on the SCAD fishing team has their own equipment that they brought with them to SCAD," said Payne. "At the level I recruited, some of our artist-anglers have their own rod and reel sponsors where they promote their product.
"The members of our SCAD fishing team take care of their rods, reels, and other specialized equipment for competition."
At the end of the day, Payne hopes for his student athletes to grow as anglers, to learn to compete better and to become seasoned students in the field of study that they have chosen.
Because one day, their collegiate fishing careers will end and it will be time for these anglers to step into the work force in some capacity, possibly into the fishing industry.
"The students who are graduating can compete professionally," said Payne. "(And) these companies (in the industry) need people with college degrees – who understand the industry – to work as brand managers and product designers and in advertising and marketing.
"Our students coming out of SCAD will be better suited to grow the industry, that is the key," he added.
"Collegiate angling can grow the industry that provides the product and experiences for all levels of fishing including professional anglers."
For anyone who doubts those words, consider the 2017 Bassmaster Classic when Jordan Lee – who was a collegiate bass angler at Auburn University just a few years ago – wowed the bass fishing world with a stunning final day comeback to win one of fishing's biggest marquee events.
That amazing moment in the sport's long history certainly seems to indicate that the future of collegiate bass fishing – and the industry as a whole – is a bright one indeed.
Thanks in great part to the vision and hard work of pioneering collegiate bass fishing coaches all around the country.
Coaches just like SCAD's Isaac Payne.