By Don Shoopman, LouisianaSportsman.com
That an accomplished high school bass angler from Tennessee earned a special scholarship to fish at Northwestern State University in Louisiana is part of the story behind Alyssa Taylor.
There are chapters before and during her days as a collegiate bass angler that may make people laugh and cry. Taylor loves her family, including a close “second family” in Natchitoches, home of NSU, and friends even more than she does bass fishing (and that’s a ton).
The young woman from Charleston, Tennessee, and Kolton Splettstosser of Jasper, Texas, both were awarded the Dylan Kyle Poche Memorial Fishing Scholarship this past fall.
Taylor, the first female bass angler to receive the scholarship started after Dylan Poche’s death in 2016, and Splettstosser each received $4,500. Poche was on the NSU Fishing Team following a sterling four years with the Natchitoches Central High School Fishing Team.
The NSU Fishing Team competes on B.A.S.S., Major League Fishing (formerly FLW) and Collegiate Bass circuits.
Two tragic events rocked Taylor’s life before she left Walker Valley High School in Cleveland, Tennessee, to attend NSU.
While fishing the 2018 Mossy Oak Bassmaster High School National Championship at Kentucky Lake near Paris, Tennessee, about 4 hours from Charleston, Taylor stayed next to high school anglers and their respective families from Natchitoches. She got to know two Natchitoches Central High School bass anglers, Hunter Owens and Wes Rollo, and, especially, Owens’ parents, Rusty and Becky Owens.
Rollo and Owens finished fourth in the 300-plus boat field when the prestigious three-day tournament ended. Taylor and the NCHS Fishing Team members became close friends.
Five months later, Owens died in a one-car wreck in Robeline, southwest of Natchitoches. That crushed Taylor’s heart. She reached out to the Owens family and stayed in touch with the Louisianians.
“I met Hunter’s parents (again) at the next nationals. It’s like we’d known each other a whole lot. They were super sweet,” she said, noting they treated her like family.
Taylor also kept in touch with Rollo. She visited Natchitoches in January 2020 on her way to fish a high school tournament at Toledo Bend in western Louisiana. She toured the college campus. She and Rollo made plans to fish on the NSU Fishing Team.
Rollo, who beat leukemia during a 31-month period before his freshman year in high school, died in May, 2020, after he was injured in a fiery one-vehicle wreck. The NCHS graduate was in his first year on the NSU Fishing Team.
With a heavy heart, Taylor stayed with her plan to go to NSU.
“That’s been hard on me, down here alone,” Taylor said about the loss of two friends, both an only child.
Help away from home
However, Owens’ parents have helped her tremendously and constantly have her out to their farmhouse, she said. They are like her parents away from home.
“They made the process so much easier for me coming down here,” she said.
For the past year at NSU, Taylor has worked cleaning houses and businesses while studying and fishing bass tournaments and planned to do the same — earn money cleaning — when she returned home in December.
“I look forward to making your house/business spic and span for the holidays,” Taylor posted on Facebook.
Taylor misses her father, Jamey Taylor, her bass fishing mentor since she was a young girl and her biggest backer, who also was her boat captain while she fished four years with the Walker Valley Bass Club. He still travels many hours to help his daughter fish collegiately.
“My dad was always there to boat captain for me. He made sure I had everything,” she said.
“All my life, basically, it’s been me and my dad. We always went fishing. He had a john boat and we went below Watts Bar Dam. We’d fish for everything.”
About half dozen years ago, she got hooked on bass tournaments.
Taylor said, “I didn’t start competitive bass fishing until I was a freshman in high school. I like participating, trying to catch bass in a six to eight hour span. I wake up at 3 in the morning to go fishing. Not many girls do that.”
Her collegiate bass fishing career has been a challenge the first 1 ½ years for another reason. The sophomore has had to fish all but two tournaments in her trusty Triton bass boat by herself, including her first derby in 2020, at Lake Guntersville in Alabama.
Doing it on her own
Taylor, who is pursuing a degree in nursing, said she has trailered her boat, launched it, loaded it, alone sans help from a tournament partner most of the time during her freshman year and early as a sophomore.
“It’s aggravating” she said. “I had to learn to deal with it. I’m out here to fish. The only way I can do that is by myself. As much as I have a bad day, I look forward to it and don’t think negative about it. If you’re in a tournament and have a negative attitude … you have to take it and be positive. I have to be positive because not everybody has this opportunity.”
Taylor did have an NSU teammate in the boat for two collegiate school tournaments last spring. She said it was temporary.
NSU Fishing Team member Luke Iles, who fished in high school bass tournaments with the Ascension Anglers, a club with members from high schools across Ascension Parish, teamed up twice last spring to fish with Taylor. Taylor and Iles finished 70th in a 171-boat field at Pickwick Lake near Florence, Alabama, and 196th in a 225-boat field at Lake Cumberland near Jamestown, Kentucky.
Taylor’s two solo collegiate bass fishing excursions this past fall took her to Lake Pickwick and then to Chickamauga Lake, which she considers her home lake. She was disappointed in her outing on “the Chick,” as bass anglers call it, in late October.
“I didn’t do so hot,” she said about the Kentucky lake where she finished second on a cold, rainy day in April 2018 with 20.62 pounds while fishing with Luke Fraley in the Watts Bar High School Tournament. “I was hoping to have better results than I did but fall fishing on Chickamauga is rough.”
She planned to fish at least two Bassmaster collegiate events this semester starting with the Jan. 21-22 tournament at the Harris Chain of Lakes, Leesburg, Florida, then March 25-26 at Lake Norman near Cornelius, North Carolina.
Tying on an Alabama rig
She’ll throw an Alabama rig when she can because, she said, that’s her favorite artificial lure but she is plenty adept with a football jig, topwater lures and a dropshot rig.
Much of her focus will be back in Tennessee, where she mentors two girls, Lainie Holbert and Sarah Swindle with the Riverside Junior Bass Team.
“One of the reasons I do what I do, I have two girls who I’ve taken under my wing,” she said. “They’re from Parsons, Tennessee. These two girls fished together the last couple of years. They look up to me a lot. These two girls are like my sisters. They are hammers. They can fish, I tell you. They beat the boys multiple times.”
Holbert and Swindle caught 14 pounds, 2 ounces, June 19, 2021, to win the Mossy Oak Bassmaster Junior Series tournament on Saginaw Bay in Bangor Charter Township, Michigan, to qualify for the 2021 Mossy Oak Fishing Bassmaster Junior National Championship for second- through eighth-graders held Oct. 8-9 on Carroll County 1000-acre Recreational Lake near Huntingdon, Tennessee.
Taylor left Natchitoches and drove eight hours to support the girls in Huntingdon, where they were 29th in the 61-boat field. She made signs and held them up for the blastoff and weigh-in.
Like family and friends have supported her bass fishing efforts, she supports those girls.
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