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Landers: EWU student destined to be cast a fisherman

A skateboard wipe-out injury as a sixth-grader was the lucky break that steered Nick Barr on the course to become a fisherman.

“Nobody in my family fished or hunted or was even outdoorsy,” said Barr, who prospered from that fractured knee to having a closet full of hats geared to outdoor sports.

He wears the red and black hat of the fishing club he founded at Eastern Washington University, where he’s a junior in business and marketing.

There’s the camouflage cap of the 60-member EWU Sportsman’s Club, of which Barr is the president. “I founded the club because I’d never hunted and, like others, I wanted to connect with students who had the skills.”

Barr, 21, also dons the hat of Mar Don Resort, where he guides bass and walleye anglers at Potholes Reservoir, plus at least 11 hats from fishing-industry sponsors (listed at who help him afford driving 25,000 miles a year for piscatorial pursuits.

“He definitely has a passion,” said his mom, Dorn Barr, a retired high school business teacher from Lacey, Wash. “It all started that summer at Long’s Pond.”

Sentenced to a full leg cast for 14 weeks, Barr was pretty much deserted by his active friends who were off playing baseball and other sports he loved. “He really couldn’t go anywhere,” she recalled, “so he asked for a fishing pole.”

Barr would hobble down on crutches to the pond, where only kids are allowed to fish.

“Pretty soon my freezer was getting full of trout,” she said. “We couldn’t eat the fish fast enough. He even did his sixth-grade science project on fish in that lake.”

“I absolutely fell in love with it,” Nick confirmed, but his epiphany came when he hooked his first bass.

“I really didn’t know what it was. It wrapped line around stumps while I was limping around in my cast, flopping on my belly to run my rod around pilings trying to get untangled.”

When Barr finally reeled the bass to the dock, he briefly envisioned anglers he’d seen in boats grabbing largemouth by the lower lip.

“But when I actually saw the bass, its mouth was huge and I didn’t want to put my fingers in it. I tried lifting the fish onto the dock with my rod but the line snapped. It was probably a 6 pounder.

“That fueled the fire. Ever since then, getting fish like that has been my quest.”

But Nick wasn’t the usual boy caught up with an obsession for all things slimy.

He contacted the local bass club, hooked up with club members who’d offer a seat in their boats, and founded the Capital City Junior Bass Club.

Using paper-route money, he bought a little aluminum vessel he converted into a mini bass boat.

At his freshman orientation, he noticed the school didn’t have a fishing club, so he did the paperwork, wrote a constitution and signed on an advisor to start the first Timberline High School Fishing Club.

Barr was just getting up to speed. At 15, he talked his mom and grandmother into cosigning for a larger used boat, even though he didn’t have a driver’s license or a vehicle to tow it.

Tapping the paper-route savings, he was able to make payments and still have enough to pay $800 for a Jeep with 250,000 miles.

“I had never been in a bass boat,” his mom recalled, “but when I drove him to Portland to look at that boat, he and the owner took me out for the test drive. They sat me in the middle between them and the next thing I knew – Oh, my God – we were going 60 mph down the Columbia River.”

“Since then I learned that bass fishermen always want a bigger, faster boat. Oh, my God!”

That summer, Barr and his fishing partner won cash in their first significant bass tournament to pay some of their expenses for the 350-mile round-trip from Olympia to Banks Lake.

There was no turning back after he had proof that fishing pays.

In January, Barr and his EWU teammate Jarred Walker collected $2,000 by winning the FLW College Fishing Western Conference Tournament on Lake Oroville, Calif.

Barr’s goal is to be a professional angler, but he understands the odds are slimmer than catching a record lunker.

If he doesn’t make the pro circuit, he hopes to channel his degree and experience into a career in outdoor marketing.

“In high school, he was in DECA and went to nationals,” his mother noted. “He has a business sense.”

There’s no telling how wealthy Ron Popeil would have become if he’d have had Barr on his team huckstering the Pocket Fisherman.

“Not long ago,” his mom said, “my daughter mentioned that it seemed like we supported Nick more than the other children. I told her they were happy just being normal good high school students. Nothing wrong with that. But when a kid has a particular passion you have to step up and do what’s necessary.

“I’m just glad he realizes a fisherman has to have a day job.”

  • The EWU Sportsman’s Club will have a booth at the Big Horn Outdoor Recreation Show today through Sunday at Spokane County Fair and Expo Center. Barr is scheduled to give daily seminars on techniques for catching bass and walleye at Potholes Reservoir.

Contact Rich Landers at (509) 459-5508 or email

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