Kelly expands lifelong passion for fishing into competition

Andrew Little | Sports Editor

Nate Kelly shows off a largemouth bass he caught. Kelly posts photos from tournaments and his largest catches on his fishing Instagram account natekelly_fishing.

Nate Kelly can often be found cheering on the Mason Comets leading the black hole student section at many sporting events, but his favorite competitive environment is on the water.

Kelly has been fishing for his entire life, starting as a young kid learning from his grandfather at his pond. What began as a bonding activity has become his passion as Kelly now spends much of his free time fishing recreationally and in competitions.

“[My grandpa] taught me how to fish but now I’ve stepped my game and now I’m better than him,” Kelly said. “He’s now always like ‘how do you catch so many fish?’ It’s just about having patience with and knowing what you’re doing, but you also want to have fun with it.”

He started taking a more competitive approach to fishing during the COVID-19 lockdown period. Kelly had always loved to fish, but during his new free time he often spent entire days at ponds or lakes catching fish and enjoying nature.

Over the past two years, Kelly has been competing in bass fishing tournaments and recently joined the Cincinnati Youth Bass team. He fishes in competitions with his teammates, also students in the greater Cincinnati area. Kelly said that his favorite part is the competitive environment but also enjoys the opportunities to take new approaches and improve.

“It’s fun for a change, but sometimes it can be stressful if you can’t really find the bites you are looking for,” Kelly said. “Overall, I just take it one step at a time and have fun with it. Try different ideas and new things, and don’t stick to the same things constantly. Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone”

One of the biggest thrills of fishing comes from catching a big fish. Kelly currently has a personal record of catching a seven-pound largemouth bass and is hoping to hit double-digits soon. Kelly said that reeling in a large fish is an exhilarating experience during a long day on the water.

“When I catch a big fish I’m all pumped up, excited and energetic. I try not to get too excited until I get it in the boat because once I get it in the boat I know I have it.”

Shifting to tournaments offers a new challenge to Kelly. He still relies on the lessons he has learned over his many years of fishing. Kelly said that he enjoys competing on the water for long stints as it requires him to maintain focus and be adaptable.

Nate Kelly competes at Dale Hollow Lake in Kentucky for the Cincinnati Youth Bass Club.

“It’s a mind game,” Kelly said. “You figure out a plan and hope the plan works but nine times out of ten the plan is not going to work. You have to make a change throughout the day which is huge in fishing.”

Wanting to immerse himself even further into the sport, Kelly recently started working for Bass Pro Shops. Now, he can be around fishing at work and pass his knowledge and passion to customers.Kelly said that teaching others about fishing, whether at work or introducing it to friends, is very rewarding to him.

“I help people at work with how to use a bait caster and [find] some of the best baits to use,” Kelly said. “But it’s mainly just taking a couple of friends out on the boat and teaching them different stuff, and getting them lots of good fish.

During the summers, Kelly spends the majority of his time fishing. He enjoys fishing in familiar waters as well as exploring new ponds and lakes. These can be close to home or out of state trips, including visiting family in New Hampshire. Kelly said that he feels a strong connection to nature when fishing which encourages him to spend as much time as possible doing what he loves.

“You’re outside enjoying the weather, you don’t have to worry about people telling you what to do, and you make your own decisions,” Kelly said. “There’s nothing better than running to the lake and looking at the sunrise and coming back to the dock and looking at the sunset. There’s just something about being outdoors that is just amazing.”

Kelly is still undecided about his plans after high school, but knows that fishing will continue to be a significant part of his life. He intends to continue fishing in tournaments and advance into larger competitions. Regardless of what the future holds, Kelly said that fishing has helped him grow in many ways that he will carry for the rest of his life.

“Fishing has definitely taught me a lot,” Kelly said. “It’s taught me discipline, it’s taught me leadership, it’s also taught me coping skills. If I’m stressed the best thing for me to do is go outside and fish and let my mind get to something else. When I’m fishing I’m dialed in.”

Photo contributed by Nate Kelly