Tuscola senior headed to college on fishing scholarship

Mar. 29—For many in Western North Carolina, fishing provides an enjoyable pastime and recreation. For others, like one Tuscola senior, it opens up new pathways.

Logan Russell recently signed a scholarship to fish for Lander University.

"[Getting a scholarship] was one of the goals I set when I first started high school fishing," Russell said. "When I finally accomplished it, it was a good feeling because I'm paving the way for other people to follow and showing others they can accomplish it."

Just a few years ago, a high school student going to college on a fishing scholarship was virtually unheard of. Many colleges had club fishing teams, but nothing they offered a scholarship for.

That has begun to change in recent years.

"It was a little easier then to get on a team, but now that it is getting more popular, coaches are going out and looking and seeing who is winning these tournaments and who is placing high in tournaments," Logan's dad, Jeremiah Russell, said. "They look at a little bit of everything now. You just don't walk onto a fishing team anymore."

Because of the change in what collegiate fishing looks like, it has gotten tougher to make a team.

Lander University took just five anglers this year.

"It was neat getting to make it when it was like this. I feel like I earned it more. It was a tighter selection," Logan Russell said. "I'm really blessed. I really think a lot of the people you surround yourself with make a difference too. I feel very blessed to get a scholarship. It's for something I like to do. I'll probably fish for the rest of my life."

It's easy to see why Lander University picked Russell to be one of their five incoming freshmen for the fishing team.

In 2022, Russell claimed a Student Angler Federation State Championship alongside Owen Jenkins as a member of Chatuge Anglers.

"It was pretty tough," Russell said. "During our practice, we only caught two fish on the first day and four fish on our second day. Then on our tournament day, we really didn't catch that many fish, but we made some good decisions."

He said that one of those good decisions was fishing in a spot where fish were coming up to spawn. With about 30 minutes left in the tournament, the duo bagged a four-pounder.

"It was definitely a tough tournament," Russell said. "I learned in that one to always fish to the last minute. You never know when that last bite is going to come."

The following weekend, the duo headed to Lake Lanier for another major tournament and another win.

"I feel like winning those big tournaments really helped me stand out," Russell said.

Those wins didn't just help him stand out to colleges, however.

"They had back-to-back weekends that even I was envious of," Jeremiah Russell said.

The scholarship also means that Logan Russell will have a boat of his own soon.

"We've always had a boat, but we wanted to upgrade for the high school fishing because I had a smaller boat," Jeremiah Russell said. "I got a little bit bigger boat. I told Logan if he got a scholarship for fishing I'd give him the boat. Well, I guess I've got to honor my wager."

The journey to collegiate fishing

The senior's path to Lander was one paved by fate.

"It felt like it was meant to be," he said.

That's because when he ended up touring the school, they had been in the area visiting another school.

"I had been hearing about this school getting a good fishing team," Logan Russell said. "So, we called down there. It was around 1:30 and they had an opening for a tour at 2 o'clock."

From there, as they say, the rest is history.

"I fell in love with it," Russell said. "It had the program I wanted for my degree. I liked everything about it. It had a gym. It had good food. It was like 15 minutes from the lake, so I was always going to get to go fishing after class."

The program Russell wants to pursue would put him on the path to becoming a nurse practitioner.

That was also a path he ended up going down by chance and falling in love with.

"I actually got put in the class by mistake, and they couldn't switch me out," he said. "It was a health science class, and I kind of liked it. I took the next one and the next one and here I am."

During the week, he works at a local nursing home as an activities assistant, getting involved with his future career early.

"I'm getting experience in the healthcare field," he said. "I think it's nice getting some good experience working before I go to college. And I still have time to go fishing on the weekends."

And he is still doing a lot of fishing.

This year, instead of competing in the high school circuit, Russell is taking on pro-am events, alongside some of the best fishers in the world as a part of the Major League Fishing Toyota Series.

Russell fishes as a co-angler, being assigned to a boat with a pro on the tour.

"There's a lot of practice that goes into it. You don't just show up and do it. There are some rough days on the water. You've got to take the good with the bad," Jeremiah Russell said. "He could still learn, but at this point in his fishing, to go on to the next step and keep learning, we decided to let him fish semi-pro events with adults. He has the opportunity to draw out with some of the best fishermen in the world."

The senior said the experience is helping him immensely.

"You learn something each time. Every time, you just build on that," he said. "You go from fishing the high school tournaments, but this is jumping up several levels of learning."

He said during the tournaments, he is learning a lot that he had not learned during high school fishing. During his first tournament in the Toyota Series, he only caught a couple of fish, but the experience was invaluable.

"I may have lost the tournament, but I think I won it with how much I learned from fishing. I think it will benefit me more going forward than just fishing a high school tournament," he said. "I've learned a lot. In my book, that's just as good as a win, especially from my standpoint of wanting to get better."

That extra experience has clearly been helping, according to his dad.

"It's hard for me to catch fish behind him. When he was real little, I'd have to hook the fish and give him the pole. Now, he's going to have to hook the fish and give me the pole," Jeremiah Russell said. "We fished yesterday, and I'll just be honest, it wore out. It's up and down."

While Logan Russell is off to his four-year stint with Lander's fishing team, he says that is just the beginning of the journey.

"When college fishing is over, I'm not done fishing. I'm going to keep on fishing tournaments because I love it so much," he said. "The feeling whenever you get a bite, feeling the fish tug on it, it's the most satisfying feeling for me. I've always done it. I just like fishing."