Go big or go home.
Those aren’t words one would expect to hear from many fisherman, where patience and mental toughness are valued above all else on the lake.
But Ryan Patterson’s national championship was unexpected too.
Patterson, a junior in advertising at Kansas State, entered the FLW College Fishing National Championship April 13-15 at Lake Murray, S.C, by himself and won. The win earned Patterson a $100,000 prize package that includes a new boat for the K-State fishing club.
Normally, the top-25 fishing tandems compete in the national championship.
But before the championship, his brother and partner decided to transfer to a school in Virginia, and rules prohibited Patterson, who is from Goddard, from looking for another partner.
So, Patterson had to go it alone, and fishing without a partner put a ton of added pressure on the solo angler.
“Your mistakes are well-magnified when you’re by yourself,” Patterson said.
Any problem with Patterson’s pull or line took his only chance of catching a fish out of the water.
“It’s simple math,” Patterson said. “If you have more lines in the water, you’re more likely to catch something.”
Because of his disadvantage Patterson changed his mindset.
“I focused on fishing at places that had big fish,” he said.
Not only was Patterson short-handed, he was also competing against the Kansas climate.
“We are only allowed eight months out of the year to fish,” Patterson said. “Those Southern schools have an opportunity to fish 12 months of the year.”
Because of the recent warm weather this year, however, he was able to fish 11 months of the year.
During his spring break, Patterson went out to scout Lake Murray.
“It’s helpful to know the lay of the lake,” he said.
After boating all over the nearly 41-mile long waterway, Patterson settled on his spot: Hollow Creek.
“You have to understand the fetal migration of bass,” he said. “In the spring, they like to go shallow.”
Hollow Creek didn’t go any deeper than 5 feet and was littered with stumps.
Those stumps allowed the bass to hide their silhouette, so they could jump out and attack prey much easier.
After the first day of competition, Patterson found himself in 13th place after catching four bass for a total of around 11 pounds.
“I remember my mom and grandparents sitting there patting me on the back and telling me how much of an honor it was to be there,” he said.
His goal of finishing in the top-10 was in sights.
Patterson knew the spot was right and decided to not let his first day folly deter him from his original strategy.
“I’m going to have a shot, if I can get some big fish,” he said.
On the second day, Patterson shot up to second place behind a bevy of bass, totaling five bass of more than17 pounds.
“I had four fish by 9 a.m. and then I didn’t get another bit until noon,” Patterson said about his second-day haul.
“I knew it was the right thing to do, so I just kept plugging away,” he added.
That mental toughness and confidence is what pushed Patterson into his eventual spot as a national champion.
“There are some things you cannot control,” he said. “You cannot control the sun or the clouds, but you can control the way the boat is positioned.”
He said the defining moment of his upset was having the guts to stick to his original plan.
After he shot up the leaderboard on the second day, Patterson let the rest of the competition know that he wasn’t just happy with a top-10 finish anymore.
“No one remembers second place,” he said.
So Patterson went out there for the final day, sticking to the same strategy. Only the top-five teams compete on the last day.
Like he had done the entire tournament, Patterson moved up the leaderboard one more spot, taking home first place. His final day’s catch totaled five more bass, which weighed more than 18 pounds.
Winning the national championship was “a dream come true,” said the fisherman, who has been throwing bait in the water since he was 3 or 4.
“I was extremely fortunate to compete with those guys,” the champion said. “They are extremely skilled anglers and I was fortunate enough to get those big bites.”
This shot of confidence is nothing new for the angler.
The advertising major sat down with club sports director Travis Redeker early in the season and told Redeker that K-State fishing was going to the top.
Redeker remembers the conversation well.
“When someone says their goal is to win a national championship, you don’t know if you totally believe it,” Redeker said. “But he was so confident.”
From the winnings, the K-State fishing club will get $25,000 and a new motor boat.
But Patterson intends to use the rest of the prize money to help the club himself, so that others won’t have to go through what he did when he often couldn’t afford a hotel room and had to sleep in his truck on fishing trips.
He said he is happy to give back.
“Being able to have some financial success is going to help,” Patterson said. “The boat will help our young anglers who do not have a boat.”
Not only has Patterson’s win brought financial stability to the team’s club sport, he has brought plenty of exposure. He has appeared in newspapers and on radio shows all across the state.
His win was the first team national championship for the fishing club and the first for K-State club sports in two years.
Redeker said it is very rare for a K-state club team to be crowned a national champion.
Next up for Patterson, is a trip to Lake Lanier in Duluth, Ga., Aug. 9-12 to compete against fisherman on the pro circuit for a chance to win $500,000.
But for right now, Patterson is going to finish up his degree in advertising and try and finish as a national champ for the second year in a row, a feat that is hardly matched in the world of bass fishing. After that, he will sit down with his family and decide if wants to go pro.
“I definitely want to get back there and show that this was not a fluke for Kansas State,” he said. “We have everything in our power to repeat.”