College of Agricultural Sciences alumnus bass fishing on professional circuit

August 23, 2017

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- There are an estimated 600,000 living Penn State alumni in the world, and Grae Buck is doing something none of the rest are: He's competing at the very top level of professional bass fishing, on the FLW (Fishing League Worldwide) Tour.

And he is loving it.

After fishing for a few years on Penn State's collegiate bass-fishing team, the Harleysville native graduated with a bachelor's degree in environmental resource management from the College of Agricultural Sciences in 2012. He went to work for a pond and lake management company right out of college.

"Fishing for the Penn State team gave me some experience fishing on the big stage," he said. "They were free tournaments, so they gave you the experience without having to break your bank account. It allowed me to experience high-level competitive bass fishing."

During the next three years, he fished in bass tournaments on weekends, dreaming of making it on the professional circuit. Finally, he qualified for the BFL (Bass Fishing League) regional event on the Potomac River in October 2015. The tournament offered the dual reward of a handsome payout and an invite into the FLW Tour -- a shot at the big time.

Buck, who will be 28 this fall, managed to figure out how to catch fish in difficult conditions to win the event, which earned him a $20,000 paycheck and a $45,000 bass boat and trailer. The victory catapulted him toward fulfilling his dream.

"It was a tough practice right after Hurricane Joaquin, with the Potomac River running very muddy with lots of floating debris," he said. "I found one small area of milfoil by a ditch in the river, and I spent all three days of the tournament there casting a crankbait. The key to getting the bites was ripping the crankbait out of the milfoil to get a reaction strike from the bass hunkered down in there."

alumnus bass buster with partner

In July, Grae Buck won a tournament on Oneida Lake in New York. His fiancé, Jessica Moldofsky — who also graduated with a degree in Environmental Resource Management in 2012 and fished with Buck on the Penn State bass fishing team — helps display fish that won him the event. In professional bass-fishing, by the way, all fish caught are released.

IMAGE: Penn State

In May 2016 he quit his job working for the pond and lake management company and  "decided to go all in" on being a full-time, professional bass fisherman. "It has been sort of a natural progression from the whole Penn State bass-fishing team and getting an environmental education experience to the actual tournament fishing," he said.

Last year Buck qualified for the FLW Tour through the FLW Northern Costa Series by finishing in the top 10 in the three-tournament circuit, placing sixth out of 197 anglers. He finished 17th in an event on the Potomac River, 18th in an event on the St. Lawrence River in the 1,000 Islands region and 20th in an event on Oneida Lake.

On July 15 of this year, he won a BFL tournament on Oneida Lake, which brought him a $5,300 prize. The competition was stiff, with 128 of the best anglers from the northeast region of the country competing in the event, but dragging a plastic minnow using the drop shot method turned out to be the winning tactic for him.

"I caught a five-bass limit weighing 18 pounds even on Saturday, and I landed the big fish of the tournament -- a 4-pound, 11-ounce smallmouth bass -- with 20 minutes left in the day," he said. "That fish basically won me the tournament."

Buck hopes, of course, that there will be many more FLW tournament wins in his future. But he sees his career fate being connected to water either way, thanks to his Penn State education in environmental resource management. For now, he's trying to stay in the moment and not look ahead.

"I feel like I am very fortunate to get a chance to do this," he said. "It's extremely challenging fishing at this top level, especially to maintain success over the long-term. I'm just hoping I can keep going and work my way up, getting more consistency in my fishing technique and building and creating relationships with sponsors -- you need sponsorships to compete at the highest level of fishing."

But when the time comes, he can see himself doing a job similar to what he did working for the pond and lake management company, where he helped develop water-quality reports and lake assessments.

"While we were there, I often did fisheries assessments," he said. "I think that it would be pretty cool to use my major -- with the kind of background I have in water resources and how much I love bass fishing -- to work with different lakes and ponds and try to help grow their fish populations."

  • Alumnus bass buster right rail

    Competing against the best anglers in the country to catch enough big bass like this to win tournaments at lakes around the U.S. is a huge challenge, Grae Buck says, but he is relishing his shot at the big time.

    IMAGE: Penn State

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Last Updated August 23, 2017