Sports editor

Les Winkeler is sports editor and outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan.

Jon Rinderer has built collegiate bass fishing powerhouse at tiny McKendree University in Lebanon.

The Bearcats finished the fall portion of the 2018-19 season ranked No. 1 in the Bass Pro Shops School of the Year standings released in December. McKendree fished the fall season with six consecutive top-five finishes, including a tournament victory in the Illinois State championship.

McKendree has become a destination location for prep anglers from the Deep South. The McKendree roster currently includes Black Jackson of Carterville, Jacob Louis of Pinckneyville, Trevor McKinney of Benton, Dalton Pyatt of Pinckneyville and Braden Watt of Sparta.

Benton’s McKinney teamed with Ethan Jones of Worden to take individual honors at the Illinois State Championships last fall. The tournament was held at Kinkaid Lake near Murphysboro.

Marion’s A.J. Segers has committed to attend McKendree next season.

Rinderer is more than happy to recruit anglers from Southern Illinois.

“There is a lot of fishing goes on down there,” Rinderer said. “You have some of the best lakes down there and you have lakes that are fishable all year long. They’ve been on the water more than other kids their age. Kids in Illinois have learned to fish hard and grind.”

Conversely, many of the area’s top prep anglers find their way to Lebanon after high school.

“It’s like family,” Rinderer said of his fishing program. “I think that’s more of it than anything else. It’s a close-knit school. My wife and I are a big part of it. It’s almost like they are our kids for four years. I really think they feel that. And, we’ve done extremely well.”

The Bearcats were ranked fifth in the nation last year and fourth the previous year.

Recruiting is an inexact science in any sport, but Rinderer’s system has produced consistent winners. The only fishing coach in McKendree history, Rinderer takes a two-pronged approach. He visits with students for a couple hours, and then takes them on a fishing trip.

“I don’t think there is one particular thing, but mechanics is really important,” he said. “Can they make the presentation? Getting your bait to where you need to is important. Second, is passion. Do they love what they are doing? And, are they focused when the bait is in the water, are they making adjustments based on conditions? Does the cell phone come out of their pocket?”

Rinderer said he can coach students up in some areas — mechanics can always be improved. Other things are innate.

“You can’t teach instinct,” he said. “That just comes from their time on the water. A big percentage of these kids have had their grandparents or someone in their family that has bass fished. There is no substitute for time on the water.”

And, Rinderer was quick to dispel the notion that getting through college on a fishing scholarship was a breeze.

Major tournaments, such as Bass Pro Shop events, involve three days of practice and three days of fishing. After spending 6-8 hours on the water, student-anglers have to complete school assignments via computer.

“It is a grueling sport,” Rinderer said. “People don’t realize how much it takes to stand on the front of a boat on one leg for eight hours.”

While many of McKendree’s student-athletes aspire to fishing professionally, Rinderer wants them to focus on completing their degree work.

“A lot of them come here with that dream, but their education is more important to me than a career in bass fishing,” he said. “If they get that four-year degree, if they become a professional bass fishermen that’s a bonus.”

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On Twitter: @LesWinkeler​


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