New Angler Zack Birge Ready For Challenge of MLF
From College Bass Fishing to the MLF Game, Zack Birge is a Quick Study
By Lynn Burkhead
December 30, 2016
The first time you watch Oklahoma bass pro Zack Birge work his angling magic from the front deck of a bass boat, it seems obvious that he's a natural.
And a young-gun angling pro that is going to have a long and successful career at this bass fishing game, from his developing abilities on the FLW Tour, not to mention his newly found position as a Major League Fishing pro.
That Birge has already found his way into MLF Geico Select competition before his 25th birthday isn't surprising when you consider his resume.
Especially the part of his angling timeline that got it all started for him, when Birge helped propel his Oklahoma State University bass fishing team to the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Championship in 2012.
A couple of years later, Birge used that collegiate victory to raise even more eyebrows as he became the youngest angler in history to fish in the Rayovac FLW Championship.
But even that wasn't enough for the Blanchard, Okla. pro since he went on to actually win the event, capturing the $50,000 first prize and earning his way into the 2015 Forrest Wood Cup championship event.
Now a regular on the FLW Tour, Birge has added two more wins to his young resume (a FLW BFL series win in 2015 and a FLW Costa Series win in 2016), triumphs that have plenty in the angling game whispering that he might be the next star in the sport, someone who wins titles on the sport's biggest stages.
While he hopes that will one day be true, in Birge's mind, he's still just a young pro not far out of the college fishing game, hoping to make his mark on the water.
In fact, the likable Oklahoma young gun bass fishing pro says that his rapid ascension towards the top of the sport all began in the college game not too many years ago.
"If I hadn't been able to do college fishing, and to win that championship in 2012, I feel like I probably wouldn't be where I am today," said Birge, who now travels the nation's top fishing circuits with his wife Kristina.
How did Birge become one of the hottest young pros in bass fishing?
Believe it or not, by a chance encounter as Birge attended a community college in Oklahoma, eventually running into an angler with the Oklahoma State Cowboys bass fishing team.
"I didn't even know they had a team," laughed Birge. "I kept his number (since I) kind of hit it off with him. (Eventually, I) decided that was where I was going to go to school."
While Oklahoma State is known for its excellence in a number of sports, bass fishing is a club sport at the Big 12 school.
As such, anglers on the OSU bass fishing team, like many other college anglers, have to fend for themselves when it comes to boats, motors, tow vehicles, rods, reels, lures and tournament entry fees.
"I was fortunate enough to already have a boat and I had a truck," said Birge. "Blake (Flurry), the kid I fished with in college, he was the same way (in that he had) a boat and a truck."
While that was a good start, Birge admits that just having a couple of bass rigs wasn't enough to excel at the college fishing game.
"The way it worked with us was we didn't get any of our money back - it was all out of pocket - fuel, lodging, everything, unless we made a check," he said. "If we made a check, a $10 check or a $10,000 check, the club would reimburse us for everything.
"So every time we set out to go to a tournament, no matter where we went, Blake and I, our goal was to somehow make a check, at least $10 bucks," he added. "Because (after that), then we could look at it like a vacation pretty much."
Coming in for a period break, MLF Select Pro Zack Birge prepares to ready his tackle and new strategy for the next period of the 2017 Summit Select Qualifying Round 1.
After ensuring that an event would bring a return on their investment, Birge said that he and his tournament partner could then focus on learning more about bass fishing as a sport and a business.
What were the biggest challenges? Like any other student athlete, it was the art of managing competition and school work.
"It's not something like basketball where you have to maintain a certain grade point average, a certain GPA, to stay on the team," said Birge. "But (still), your number one priority is grades because you've got to have good grades to graduate."
"(Even when we were) going to tournaments, it worked out well," he added. "We had plenty of time to prepare (for being) gone for four or five days at a time," he added.
"I'd come back and make my work up and it would all be good."
Just like his developing career is now.
Given that Birge has succeeded in making the transition from college fishing to the professional game, does he have any sage advice to pass along to someone hoping to do the same?
"I would say that if you have an option, look at the schools that help out the most in college fishing," he said.
"Look at Bethel University, (the University of) Arkansas, Dallas Baptist (and others)," he added. "Definitely look into the schools that help (their) college anglers out the most because it really makes things easier on you as a student, from the funds (necessary to compete) and (the other things it takes to) be on a team."
A byproduct of the college fishing game, where does Birge see the sport going in upcoming years?
"High school fishing, it's growing more than anything right now," he said. "(And) college fishing is still big, still going strong. I really think that there are some big things in the works and coming soon for the college angler as far as stepping stones into (various series) and becoming a pro."
As you might expect, Birge is a big fan of the college angling game since his national title in the sport has helped propel him to a professional career that already includes nearly a quarter of a million dollars in earnings, three tournament wins and 11 Top 10 finishes in just two years of professional competition.
As good as his college-to-pro story is, Birge points out that the sport has also helped propel other young-gun fishing pros into the sport's upper echelon in short order, anglers like Trevor Lo, Jordan Lee and Matt Lee among others.
"(College fishing) is definitely a way to get your name out, for sponsorships, for social media and stuff like that," he said.
It has also served as a great training ground for what Birge now gets to do all across the country.
"Well, traveling and seeing all of the different lakes across the country when I was in college, (that) has helped me out," said the young Oklahoma pro.
"It has (also) helped to prepare me for the major events that I'm fishing now because I've seen most of these places once or twice now," he added.
But he credits his college fishing experience for also helping him succeed in new and otherwise unknown fishing holes, too.
"We do go to some new places that we didn't go to when I was in college," said Birge. "But I have gained experience on traveling to different parts of the country, the way that fish set up on different places, stuff like that."
A rookie in the MLF Geico Select game, what does Birge think of the sport's hottest tournament game?
"I really like the way Major League Fishing sets up," said Birge, who adds that it suits his strengths of fishing fast and being consistent day in and day out.
"I feel like I can catch a lot of fish," he added. "I may not catch the biggest fish because I like to play the numbers game.
"I don't like just catching five all day long - I like catching 50 and keeping the best five out of that average. But the way this works, it really helps me out because I can play the numbers game and accumulate a lot of weight."
Something that Birge seems to excel at, catching one fish at a time, one right after another.
"It all started back then and (what I'm doing now, it) all came from my start in college (fishing)," said Birge.
"It really launched my career."
A budding career that has already propelled Birge to the top of the bass angling game as a Major League Fishing pro.