Can’t resist fishing’s lure: Rowan teen working toward dream of going pro
By Mark Wineka
On Swearing Creek, young Sam Weisensel flips and pitches his line toward the shore.
He’s using his favorite pole, a 7-foot-long Browning, with a root beer-colored crank bait.
Standing at the front of the bass boat, Weisensel won’t allow his eyes to leave the line as he winds it back toward him.
He keeps the rod’s handle close to his waist with the tip pointed toward the water. The position allows the crank bait to run deeper, at its true depth, and gives him a better feel.
His next side-armed cast zips the line quickly toward a shoreline tree, expertly landing near the rocky bank without getting snagged.
“Accuracy is important,” Weisensel says. “You want to have it pinpoint.”
In the next moment, he feels something hit his line. He stops, then goes, quickly hooking a largemouth bass that within seconds is out of the water and on the boat.
If this were a tournament, the fish would be a keeper.
At 18, Weisensel already knows plenty about tournament fishing. The East Rowan High senior started on his dream to become a professional three years earlier when he assembled a business portfolio and started calling on potential sponsors.
“We probably had to help him the most getting through the denials,” says his father, David.
For every sponsor who said yes to the then 15-year-old, his father says, probably 20 others said no.
But the youngster’s confidence in his fishing impressed Cheerwine, the Salisbury-based soft drink company. It also didn’t hurt that he was an enthusiastic Cheerwine drinker.
“We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to support a young Cheerwine fan with such talent and ambitious dreams,” said the company’s vice president for marketing, Tom Barbitta.
“The relationship has been great for both of us, and we love to watch Sam grow closer to reaching his goal each year.”
In years past, Weisensel has finished first in the Fishers of Men National Tournament Trail Piedmont Adult/Junior Division and came in fifth in the North Carolina State Championship tournament.
This year, he has been competing in his first adult tournaments, part of the American Bass Anglers Tour, which includes five District 14 tournaments at places such as Lake Norman, Badin Lake, High Rock Lake and Tuckertown. He also competed this spring in the McDonald’s Big Bass Flash at Lake Sam Rayburn, Texas.
Cheerwine pays Weisensel’s entrance and membership fees and fuel costs connected with tournaments. The company provides him with branded shirts, a decal wrap for his bass boat and also all the product he can drink.
In return, Weisensel has been a Cheerwine ambassador. He says he couldn’t be competing without the company’s help and all of his other sponsors, each of whom have decals on his boat.
“He’s pretty focused,” David Weisensel says. “When he gets something in his head, he likes to go after it.”
Sam Weisensel is actually on two paths. In a couple of weeks, before he graduates from East Rowan High, he will take his state board exam to become a certified nursing assistant.
He hopes that will lead to jobs over the coming summers at hospitals or in nursing homes and allow him the flexible hours needed for fishing.
He will attend the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in the fall to start his pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in nursing. His long-range goal: to become a nurse anesthetist.
David Weisensel says he and his wife, Rebecca, have always preached for their older children to have a “dream path” and a “realistic path.” They don’t discourage the kids from going after their dreams, but they also require a solid backup plan ó something that nursing could be for Sam.
After releasing the largemouth bass back into Swearing Creek, Weisensel keeps trolling within casting distance of the shoreline.
He wears polarized sunglasses to cut the water’s glare and talks as he casts, standing in the middle of 13 other rods on the deck.
Weisensel explains how he likes to keep his movements natural, such as casting the line parallel to the shore to trace a path a bass might follow.
“Normally, in a tournament, I wouldn’t be this noisy,” Weisensel apologizes. “Because anything I’m doing now echoes to the bottom of the boat.”
When determining where to fish, he thinks like the bass and considers things such as oxygen, temperature, sunlight, water clarity, food, structure and cover. He describes how he likes to “fish the rocks” near a shoreline, hitting the rocks with his cast so that the lure plops naturally into the water.
Bass fishing is all about presenting the lure, Weisensel says.
When he catches a bass, he often feels its belly to determine the kinds of things it has been feeding on ó information going into his choice of bait.
“Sometimes you have to fish in an unconventional manner to catch fish,” Weisensel says. “You always want to keep in mind being natural.”
Sam Weisensel has been on the water since he was 5 months old, fishing since he was 2 and getting serious about the sport since he was 8. As the middle child of five Weisensels, ages 8 to 28, Sam learned quickly about fending for himself.
His father describes him as confident, honest and not one to “candy-coat” things.
Using birthday money he had saved through the years, Sam paid $350 for his first boat as an 11-year-old. It was a 1966 Cherokee with a 65-horsepower Mercury outboard that he was able to sell for a profit two years later.
Weisensel replaced it with a fish-and-ski boat, and his father says Sam soon realized it was “seriously outclassed.” That’s when he went to work trying to find sponsors. Meanwhile, he fixed up his second boat, sold it on eBay and bought his current boat ó a 20-foot-long, 1989 Stratos with a 200-horsepower Evinrude outboard.
Statistically speaking, Weisensel’s fishing season could be going better.
“It’s been a very tough year for me,” he says.
But for someone his age trying to advance toward bigger fishing tours, such as the FLW Stren Series, Weisensel knows it’s about finishing solid and making himself marketable.
Every tournament ó every day on the water ó adds valuable experience, he says.
His biggest bass has been an 8-pounder he caught in 2005 in Badin Lake.
His best fishing day?
Weisensel speaks fondly of a day trip to Badin Lake with his father and a brother. Together they caught 40 fish, of which 30 were bass.
“That was a good day,” he says.
He also likes to remember a great tournament day on Lake Norman when he caught 11 bass, forcing him to cull through the catches, eliminating the smaller ones for the bigger ones.
That’s always a good day.
During tournaments, Weisensel drinks Cheerwine, Blue Mist and Savage, since his sponsor supplies plenty of them. His mother also makes him a special trail mix to munch on. Protein and sugar work well for him, he says, because “it’s kind of a stressful day out here for eight hours.”
“I won’t eat or drink until I get a fish in the boat,” he adds.
When he’s not fishing, Weisensel enjoys hunting and weightlifting. He played linebacker and fullback for East’s football team but gave up baseball several years ago to provide more time for fishing.
How does he relax from the stress of a weekend fishing tournament?
“I like to fish to get away from fishing, if that makes sense” he says.