This column intends to spotlight student athlete-artists from each of SCAD’s sports teams, no matter how well-established or accomplished. For this week’s piece, I interviewed Ryleigh Tyson, a member of SCAD Savannah women’s fishing team who, with her teammate Jaci Skipper, made history back in March when they qualified the first all-women’s boat for the 2018 FLW Yeti College Nationals.
Women's Fishing: District Sports Spotlight

Ryleigh Tyson, a first-year industrial design student, poses with her teammate Jaci Skipper after finishing 14th place at the FLW Yeti College Fishing Southeastern Conference. Image courtesy of Tyson.

When I first started writing this column, I never thought I would learn so much about lacrosse, tennis, cycling, equestrian and various other athletics here at SCAD, but, hands down, my favorite part about writing these pieces is interviewing the passionate people involved. This week’s piece featuring Ryleigh Tyson is no exception, and if anything, I know more about fishing from a single conversation with her than from my 22-year-old, intermittently dispersed and limited experience.

Tyson is a first-year industrial design major from Saint Cloud, Florida, and she’s been fishing since she was in her single-digit years. She said she used to practice with her father and brother at the pond on their family ranch. It was not until she was a junior in high school that she started competing in fishing tournaments against other local schools. Come her senior year, she assumed the position of president for the school fishing club. That’s how SCAD found her.

“I was recruited out of high school and had never heard of SCAD at the time,” Tyson said. “I invited the coach to come meet my club at one of our upcoming tournaments, so he did, and spoke to me and tried to schedule a visit then. I did some research, and my original plan was to be an engineer, and go to a local college back home, UCF (University of Central Florida). But once I was invited to SCAD, I came to check it out, and decided from there that industrial design was actually a better fit for me. So I came to SCAD specifically for my major, but fishing played an important role in introducing SCAD to me.”

According to Tyson, this is SCAD’s first year having fishing as a varsity-level sport. Head coach Isaac Payne started the team initially as a fishing club during his time as a SCAD student. After graduating, Payne nurtured the team to varsity status.

“Not many students are aware of the fishing team we have at SCAD, but when they find out, they are always interested to ask and we get some awesome reactions,” Tyson said. “When I tell people that I’m on a college fishing team, the first thing I get told is, ‘I wish they had that when I was in college,’ or, ‘I would’ve went to college if I could fish!’ So it’s always fun to hear the reactions and then tell people about our successes at SCAD.”

SCAD’s fishing team competes in the Bassmaster College Series Trail, the FLW College Tournament Trail and the Cabella’s College Trail. Tyson told me fishing is not the type of sport where there are set “positions.” Instead, there are two people on each boat during a tournament, but that doesn’t mean the sport isn’t any less competitive.

Tyson with two catches. Image courtesy of Tyson.

“Fishing is a competitive team sport, not necessarily by school but by teams that are separated by school,” Tyson said. “For example, SCAD has a women’s and men’s fishing team, where there are two women on each boat, fishing against the men on the boat from SCAD in the same tournament. It’s a little bit complicated to explain as a college sport, but it’s kind of like an every-man-for-themselves kind of sport. Boat against boat.”

Because I only know fishing as a low-key past time with my dad and uncle, I asked Tyson to give me the overview of a competitive fishing competition. She replied, “Okay, so we’re a little crazy.”

“We wake up long before the sun, sometimes at 3 a.m.,” Tyson explained. “[We] get the boats ready and drive down to the ramp, dump the boat into the water, and sit and visit with the other anglers before we take off at ‘Safelight,’ which is fishing lingo for, ‘Sunrise,’ when the water is bright enough to be safe to take off across the lake.”

Once the sun rises, Tyson said the anglers are released one-by-one by boat numbers drawn randomly and assigned before or the morning of the competition.

“We then take off around 6:30 or 7 a.m., and drive to our fishing spots,” Tyson said. “We are normally out there the entire day, searching for five of the biggest fish we can catch. This is fresh water fishing that I am talking about, so we are looking for specific species of bass, largemouth, small mouth, spotted bass.”

Tyson explained a fish “limit” is code for a bag of five fish. Anglers are are allowed to keep five fish in the boat at one time.

“So if you catch two small fish and three bigger ones, and you catch a really big fish, you ‘cull’ or trade its place with the smallest fish in the livewell, helping to make your overall fish weight as big as possible,” Tyson said. “The day lasts usually to about 2 p.m. or sometimes 3 p.m., and then you race back into weigh in.”

Image courtesy of Tyson.

Once at weigh in, Tyson said anglers bring their fish up in a bag with water and pour them into tanks to keep them alive while the other anglers wait in line.

“Then you walk across the stage where they dump the water out and weigh your fish on a scale, talk to you about your day, and then announce your weight,” Tyson said. “The winning team of the day is chalked up to the team with the biggest bag of fish, all regarding weight. In some cases, a team with three fish can actually outweigh a team with five fish, so it’s all about who can find the bag of the biggest fish.”

Fishing, according to Tyson, is actually a widely popular hobby for folks internationally. Although many people delight in catching the fish, Tyson said her favorite part about competitive fishing is the weigh in.

“After a successful day of being on the water, it’s always nice to stand around meeting new people and talking to them about how they reacted to the water that day and how they caught their fish,” Tyson said. “I believe fishing is all about the story you share, so talking to people and sharing your stories of the day is always my favorite.”