MTSU Outdoor Pursuits Reels in $70K TWRA Grant to Pilot Fishing Program

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Middle Tennessee State University students enjoy a fishing excursion trip as part of the university’s new fishing program at Long Hunter State Park in Hermitage, Tenn., on March 26, 2022. Standing, from left, are Govind Prasad Aall, Zechariah Doohen, Hannah Dyson, Jacob Dillard, Priscilla Hammermeister, Elizabeth Burgess, Yu Ting Chen and Megan Jarrell. (MTSU photo courtesy of Blake Osborn)

MTSU’s Blake Osborn, outdoor pursuits coordinator for Middle Tennessee Outdoor Pursuits, or MTOP, knew True Blue students were interested in a university fishing program, and the slowdown during the pandemic allowed him to pursue it.

“We also started collaborating with Abundant Life Adventure Club, made for Black professionals and entrepreneurs to recreate outside,” Osborn said. “They challenged me to consider offering activities that appealed more to diverse students…. Most of the students who would ask about fishing were students of color, so the idea of adding fishing to our program was ignited as we want to serve MTSU’s diverse student body.”

Osborn reached out to the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency, or TWRA, about fishing licenses and equipment, and his conversations led to the discovery of grant funds. Osborn applied for and landed $70,000 of those funds for a new fishing program — the first university outdoor recreation program in the state to do so.

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MTSU photo by Stephanie Barrette

An MTSU graduate and local from Franklin, Tennessee, Osborn quickly used the funds that arrived at the end of 2021 to stock MTOP with poles, tackle, kayaks, paddleboards, cargo trailers, camping equipment, fly-fishing setups and more.

“With our new gear, we now offer complimentary fishing pole and tackle rentals, additional gear rentals at a discount, free fishing excursions and free fishing clinics,” Osborn said. “All these perks are available to both students and faculty, and all the gear is available for rent to the wider Murfreesboro community.”

The only requirement to take advantage of MTSU’s new fishing program is to show proof of a state fishing license, available for purchase online here https://tinyurl.com/53fk7cne at $9 for a one-day license and $38 for an annual license. MTOP will also offer a $30 rental credit for annual license holders.

College-age residents represent the lowest demographic of license holders, so partnering with the university made sense for the TWRA.

“We get students excited about fishing, we provide many excursions and rentals at no additional cost, and the TWRA is able to increase license sales with our participants,” Osborn said.

Zechariah Doohen, aviation student and MTOP fishing guide, has fished his whole life and looks forward to sharing the rewarding pastime with his peers.

“We have a unique opportunity to create a large fishing program,” Doohen said. “Down the line we could possibly expand our team and teach and offer small classes for water resource education, whether it be conservation, entomology, fly tying classes or philanthropy events.”

MTSU’s fishing program is even making waves beyond the Blue Raider campus.

“I am helping other Tennessee outdoor recreation programs get a similar grant,” Osborn said. “Tennessee Tech is planning on working with the TWRA next fiscal year, and I have connected the University of Tennessee at both the Knoxville and Chattanooga campuses and Austin Peay State University with the TWRA, too.”

The evolution of the fishing program from a small idea into such a generous grant has been incredible, Osborn said.

“These resources can be a game changer for large and small programs alike, allowing more people to enjoy the outdoors and fishing!” he said. “Usually equipment is expensive, and many people don’t know what to buy, where to go and how to fish beyond putting a worm and hook on a line. But programs such as MTOP put a lot of energy into education, safety and conservation, so this grant at MTSU and other universities has the potential to get thousands of Tennessee residents outside safely.”

To learn more about the university’s fishing program, visit the MTOP website here https://www.mtsu.edu/camprec/outdoors/ or email Osborn at [email protected].

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