Mark Fox, Milligan’s vice president for athletics and student development, said he is looking forward to “offering students the opportunity to gain skills and compete, enjoy the outdoors and be active in local conservation efforts.”
The team is set to begin competing in the fall.
The fly fishing team is the latest competitive program introduced at Milligan, which includes an “e-sports” team for competitive multiplayer video gaming launched last year.
The fly fishing team will compete in regional and national competitions and will be active in the local Trout Unlimited Overmountain chapter for preservation and cleanup efforts. Milligan will also be the first college to offer scholarships for fly fishing to incoming students.
Zack Nave, an experienced fly fisher and adviser for the college’s fly fishing club, will direct the team. He said he’s excited to get the team started and show students “all that our region has to offer.”
With 20 years of fly fishing experience, Nave said he thinks Northeast Tennessee — which has increased its regional emphasis on outdoor recreation tourism in recent years — has some of the best spots to fish.
“I’m pretty spoiled, and I grew up fishing from a young age. You kind of get to know the waters, and you’re used to it,” Nave said. “Then you hear good things about other areas, and you go and fish that, and you’re like, ‘Wow. I kind of have it made right at home.’
“It’s pretty cool to have as much public access as we have at Watauga and South Holston,” he continued. “It’s a hotspot. When you’re talking about the Southeast, this is the premier area to come to visit and fish.”
A Milligan announcement Monday noted the South Holston River contains an average of 8,500 trout per mile, and the Watauga River, just over two miles from campus, includes one of Tennessee’s only designated trophy sections for fly fishing.
Nave said he’s looking for competitors who know the region’s waterways, and he said he already has his eyes on some local talent.
Nave is also Milligan’s head cycling and triathlon coach, and has led the cycling teams to four national titles, three individual national championships, 15 team conference championship titles and 25 individual conference championships over the past eight years.
He hopes to use his experience fishing and coaching to build a strong program.
“Putting together a program that makes people better is at the heart of all three programs,” Nave said.