Chad Burkholder happens to be from my hometown of Palmyra, Pennsylvania. We also both love fishing the Susquehanna River. So we have a lot in common except for I went to school “just a few” years before there were bass fishing clubs. Chad started the Penn State Harrisburg bass fishing club. In this interview, we learn about the club and Chad’s favorite places to fish.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Palmyra, Pennsylvania, a small town near Hershey, PA. The area does not have the best of fishing opportunities. Usually I’d go fishing with my dad at local ponds. Once we got a boat, we started fishing the Susquehanna River out of Middletown and that’s where my fishing lifestyle really kicked off.
What made you choose Penn State University? What year are you?
I chose to go to Penn State Harrisburg because it was local and offered the major I was interested in, which is Mechanical Engineering. I am going into my Senior year.
Did you go to school expecting to join the bass fishing team?
When I started school at Harrisburg, there wasn’t a Bass Team. I actually started the Bass Team there with my friends that I came in contact with around campus. I’d stop people in the hall because they were wearing a fishing hat. Usually I would say, “Hey, you like to fish?”. People looked at me like I was some kind of weirdo, but most people were pretty excited when I said I was trying to start a Bass Team.
I eventually met Ryan Fox, who fishes for Penn State now. Ryan and I were the founders of the team and we were the first duo team the club had. After the team was started, I began to talk to different companies about sponsorship opportunities and I eventually was introduced to Doug and Barry, who were the roots for our tournament experience. Doug and Barry both live locally to the school and fish in local river clubs. Without them, our team wouldn’t have gotten anywhere.
Doug and Barry got us in their tournament club and put us on the water where we got to get our first tournament experience. I’d love to say I kicked their butts but honestly, they kick my butt every time to this day.
My knowledge of fishing has grown exponentially since joining that club. I decided to create the college club after I gave up playing ice hockey. I played hockey for 13 years and when I got to college, I wasn’t as interested in playing anymore so I needed to find something new to do.
What has been your experience like on the team?
The club experience has by far been the best part of going to school at Penn State Harrisburg. I’ve made a lot of new friends who like to fish and it really opens a lot of opportunities to get out fishing when you have that large of a friend network. The best highlights that I’ve had in the club are probably getting our first jerseys, going to our first FLW college series tournament, and helping out at the Great American Outdoor Show in Harrisburg.
When we first started to order our jerseys, there were a ton of ideas being thrown around. Designs, logos, sponsors, yada yada yada. Once we got everything sorted out, we sent in the order. With a 3-week turnaround from the jersey company, and 3 weeks till we left for Smith Mountain Virginia to fish our first tournament, we ended up getting the jerseys a couple days before we left, which couldn’t have worked out any better.
When we got to the lake, it was literally chaos to say the least. Ryan and I honestly had no idea what we got ourselves into. The lake was huge and the fish weren’t biting. There were college boats everywhere and our little bass tracker with a 60hp was a little under sized for the water we were fishing. We ended up catching 1 fish on tournament day. It was a fantastic time even though we didn’t catch many. We got the first tournament out of our way.
The last highlight I have to mention is helping out at the Outdoor Show. Barry runs the kids casting competition at the show. My teammates and I volunteered to help out. When you’re wearing a fishing jersey covered in sponsors and a Penn State Logo, kids look at you like you’re a fishing wizard. It makes their day to participate in that event. They walk away with a free rod and reel. It is by far the best thing going on at the Outdoor Show so be sure to stop by there if you attend in the future.
The greatest part from that event was the first time that I helped out. We help hundreds of kids with learning to cast and there was one young girl that I barely had to teach to cast. I swear she was lying when she said she never used a fishing rod before. She finished with one of the best scores of the day and went on to the final event.
The final event was for the top 3 scoring kids of the day to cast off for a chance to win some awesome fishing tackle boxes, Cabelas gift cards, and more fishing rods. This girl blew minds when she hit the bullseye on the target with an overhand cast on her first try. The two 14-year-old boys were not happy getting their butts kicked by a 10-year old girl who never used a fishing rod before. I still tell the guys on the team that, “I train champions.”
What was your best tournament of your collegiate career?
The best tournament I’ve had so far is the second one I ever fished, which was at Chautauqua in New York. Ryan and I were partnered up for that one. We prepared by doing non-stop research online and watching MLF a few times over.
In practice we found some big fish. Ryan caught a 6 pounder and I missed a big fish on top water. We thought we’d limit out on a spot. We quickly learned that fish move from day to day, because they weren’t there. We ended up squeezing out a small limit and finishing 38th out of 83. I was pretty happy considering how much we struggled when our plan failed. That was my best finish so far in the college tournaments.
How has your fishing improved since being on the team?
My fishing experience and knowledge has grown so far above what it was when I started the team. I never thought my head would be an inventory of fishing information. Specifically, I have learned to catch fish in places that I haven’t fished before.
The toughest part of these college tournaments is showing up to a brand-new place and trying to beat 100 other teams. Adapting and applying your style to a lake is the biggest thing, in my opinion, to learn with fishing. There’s plenty of times that people tell you a specific bait to try, but unless you’ve fished that bait before, you’re probably not going to do the best with it.
Preparing for these tournaments starts months before with online research, but it’s when you get to the lake that you really start to figure things out. Learning how to apply what you fish best is one of the best ways to do well. Watch anyone on the tour. They have their styles that they use in every tournament. Taking your confidence baits and learning how to use them somewhere new is what I have found produces the best results.
I see that you fish with your dad a lot. What has influence been on your fishing?
My dad is who took me fishing for the first time when I was a young kid, so really, I fish because he likes to fish. It’s a nice time to relax and bond with my dad. My dad is not one to go buy a ton of rods or gear. He uses what he catches fish on and doesn’t buy much of anything else. His simplicity helps me to remember that I need to follow with that same mentality and fish with the baits that I am confident in and catch fish on. I often overthink my situation and begin to panic, but my dad often tells me to just go fish. The more casts you make, the more opportunity you have to catch fish.
Dad also owns the boat that gets me out on the water so I am really appreciative of that. He puts a lot of work into the boat with the maintenance and upkeep. I couldn’t do what I do without my Dad. He’s the real backbone to my fishing career.
If you could share a boat with one pro angler, who would it be?
It would be amazing if I was able to fish with Edwin Evers. I was actually able to meet him at Bass Pro Shops in Harrisburg. He was a very personable guy. The reason I want to fish with him is that I think his style of fishing is pretty close to mine. I think I could learn some new techniques that would go well with my style from him. He’s also an Elite Series champion, so he’s proved he knows what to do out there on the water.
I’m also use to fishing here in the north, and he’s from the south. I could really use some southern fishing knowledge.
What are your favorite places to fish for smallmouth bass?
My favorite place to fish for smallmouth is definitely the Susquehanna River. In Pennsylvania, there is no better place to find the abundance of fish that you can find in the river. There are bigger smallmouth in Lake Erie, but catching a river smallmouth is much different than a lake smallmouth. They are two different types of fish.
They react completely differently and unfortunately, it’s really hard to take knowledge about river fishing and apply it to the lake because the style is so much different. The fish you catch in the river are sitting in shallow water, sometimes to the point that you can see their back sticking out in inches of water. In a lake, the smallmouth are often deep.
The river is also my dad’s favorite place to fish, so I enjoy taking what I learn from fishing tournaments out there and showing my dad new ways to catch fish. I honestly don’t have a second favorite fishery for smallmouth.
How about largemouth?
Lately I have grown fond of fishing Pinchot State park. It is a small lake in York, Pennsylvania. The lake holds big fish and is in reasonable distance from my house. The lake has the structure that I like to fish and that is grass.
I am a shallow water fisherman and grass holds fish consistently. The vegetation gives the fish cover in the shallow water, and I’ve learned to pinpoint where they are and get them out of their hiding spots. After fishing Chautauqua, I want to return there and catch more largemouth because I know there are giants that live in there. Anyone who’s fished there before knows that the entire lake is grass. I think I can learn to do well there.
What are your future goals as an angler?
As much as I’d like to say I want to be professional fisherman in the future, we all know that 100 anglers make the elite series. It’s not an easy goal to achieve. Instead I could see myself using my mechanical engineering degree to work in the fishing production industry. I think I have some pretty good ideas that I could bring to the fishing market and I would love to produce an innovative fishing bait. If you ask Ryan, he’d tell you about how many times that I tell him I have a new idea.
I would like to fish in some bigger tournaments in the future but right now I want to focus on consistently producing the best 5 fish limits I can. Every time I go fishing, I’m fishing for 5. I want to win some tournaments and become more consistent. You never stop learning when you’re fishing and I want to continue to get better. Who knows, maybe I’ll get lucky and qualify for a pro tournament someday, but it’s important to me that I enjoy the sport and teach it to those who are looking to learn about it.
I currently work at Bass Pro Shops in Harrisburg. I get to help people every day with selecting gear and catching fish. It’s awesome. Helping people with something I’m passionate about is one of my favorite things to do.
I’d like to say a special thanks to my friends at Bass Pro, Doug, Barry, my Penn State fishing buddies, my Dad and family, and my girlfriend, Cassie. They all contribute to my fishing success.
Thank you Chad! Good luck in your Senior year! It is clear to me that no matter what you do in fishing that it will be special and impactful. You clearly have your priorities and values in the right places. Will be following on Instagram @cburk2.