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Harbert College of Business students Tucker Smith and Hayden Marbut won the Strike King Bassmaster College National Championship in August.
Big grins spread across their faces as Auburn University Harbert College of Business students Tucker Smith and Hayden Marbut grabbed their prize-winning bass by the gills and posed for the cameras after winning the Strike King Bassmaster College National Championship in August.
The two teammates and friends have had some practice perfecting these poses. The duo has fished together since high school, where they won the 2020 Bassmaster High School National Championship at Kentucky Lake.
Separately and apart, the friends are on the rise with their sights set on being professional fishermen. Attending Auburn’s Harbert of College of Business together was no accident.
“Fishing is all business,” said Marbut, a junior marketing major. “The fishing part is fun, but the money to be made from the business side is based on being able to market yourself to get sponsorships and endorsement. Auburn has a great business program and an awesome fishing team. So, it was a win-win.”
In the United States, recreational fishing is big business. Fishing contributes $148 billion in economic output and supports 945,500 jobs nationally, according to the American Sportfishing Association. Lake and river experience is certainly required for professionals, but so is savvy business acumen.
Marbut and Smith aren’t the only Harbert College undergraduates on the team. An estimated 75% of the fishing team is matriculating through one of the eight undergraduate business majors: accounting, business administration, business analytics, finance information systems, management, marketing and supply chain management — all applicable to fishing industry careers.
They follow in the footsteps of teammates like professional fishermen and Harbert alumni Logan Parks — who won the Bass Pro Shops U.S. Open National Championship — and Jordan Lee — who won back-to-back Bassmaster Classics in 2017 and 2018 and now competes in Major League Fishing.
“Jordan Lee's probably one of the biggest professional names in the sport right now,” Marbut said. “He fished for Auburn, started his career down here and got a degree. So, he inspired a lot of us.”
“A lot of guys on the team choose business marketing or business in general just because you can do so much with it, especially in the fishing industry,” Smith agreed. “A business degree sets us up to work in the fishing industry, even if we all don’t go pro, because we have the marketing knowledge. It's really a no-brainer. We've got lots of kids that went to Auburn that now work for fishing companies like Ano and Wired to Fish.”
Harbert College of Business Students Tucker Smith and Hayden Marbut won the Strike King Bassmaster College National Championship in August.
Being a part of the Auburn University Bass Fishing Team is as hands-on as it gets when it comes to experience in the industry. The student-led team works like a business.
There’s an executive board elected each year including a president, secretary, treasurer, social media manager, membership chair and tournament director. Each team member pays yearly dues and is required to raise $500 toward expenses for tournaments, travel and supporting the team. Fishing team members must quickly come up to speed on social media marketing, media pitching, advertising and gaining sponsors.
“The Auburn University Bass Fishing Team is student-led, so we don’t have a coach. We’re running the show and talking to the sponsors ourselves,” Smith said. “I chose Auburn because I wanted to go to as many tournaments as I could, fish as much as I could and learn the most by taking on those sponsorship conversations by myself without having to go through a coach.”
Smith, formerly a membership chair for the team, is pretty good at it, evidenced by his YouTube Channel and Instagram account. He’s positioned himself not just as a champion, but a fishing expert and influencer in the sport. With nearly 14,500 followers on Instagram, he’s primed to leverage his account for financial gain that will keep him in the fishing business.
Marbut says the Auburn Bass Fishing Team helps its members develop what they will need to make it in the industry.
“We’ve got a good group of guys that work hard to keep the team running,” Marbut said. “We don’t just fish hard at all the events, but also raise money to keep us going.”
Most of the winnings for tournaments are quickly reinvested into the sport to cover expenses like gas for the boats. The real money comes from sponsorships and endorsements.
“We can raise upwards of $5,000-$7,000 just on our own by securing a boat wrap,” Marbut explained.
The team sells logo spots on the vinyl wrapping protecting the boat on its trip to tournaments.
“The boat wrap acts like a mobile billboard,” Marbut said. “Sponsors will pay to put their logo on it. It’s a great way for them to support us, and they get thousands of impressions from folks as we drive down the road with their logo on our boat wrap. It’s a good opportunity for businesses to get their name out there and show their support for the team.”
The team members do the sponsorship pitching themselves, honing their skills at marketing themselves and the industry.
“Nobody wants to give you a few thousand dollars for no reason, so you have to go after it,” Marbut said.
Smith, Marbut and the rest of the team are taking part in a few tournaments this fall and the big championships that will come in the spring. They’re hoping for more success and another college championship that would be the third in a row.
“When you go to Auburn, you get the best of both worlds. You get college life, a great business program and one of the best fishing teams in the country,” Smith said.
If you’re looking for an Auburn angler and they’re not in class, there’s a good bet you can find them on the water.
“Anybody who knows me or Tucker knows if we’re not required to be doing something, we’re headed to the lake,” Marbut said.
The Harbert College of Business which is celebrating the 10th anniversary of Raymond and Kathryn Harbert's transformational naming gift, is a nationally ranked hub of undergraduate, graduate and continuing business education that is inspiring the next generation of business leaders. Our world-class faculty deliver unparalleled academic rigor in the classroom, while our research-driven scholarship advances thought leadership and best practice across business disciplines. The largest college on Auburn's campus, Harbert enrolls more than 6,900 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students.