By Lorraine Eaton

Even in winter, Old Dominion University's Fishing Club can't resist the water.

Campus was quiet on a chilly morning when Chase Harley descended the boat ramp behind Whitehurst Hall and waded chest-high into the Elizabeth River.

"My toes are numb," Harley, a 19-year-old mechanical engineering major from Hampton, said later. "But I'm not wet at all."

Carter Lamb, the president of the Fishing Club, noted the less-than-ideal conditions: "Saturday morning, 40 degrees - that's a tough sell."

Yet there they were, a half-dozen or so hard-core members, threading strips of squid onto hooks - though everyone but Harley stayed along the bulkhead.

ODU's Fishing Club got started in 2016, when Thomas Newton '19, a mechanical engineering technology student from Charles City County, began canvassing oceanography faculty members for a sponsor.

Go see Cooper, they all said.

John Cooper, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, spends much of his leisure time aboard the 32-foot Cape Horn fishing vessel that he calls the Green Machine.

Cooper's answer to Newton: Of course!

For a first foray, Cooper welcomed members aboard the Green Machine, fired up the outboard and zoomed into the Atlantic Ocean to troll for tuna. Three hours bobbing in 6-foot seas yielded a single yellowfin.

Undaunted, the anglers began casting for new members. The roster, which rose to a pre-pandemic high of 100, stood at 37 this past academic year.

Club members fish behind Whitehurst once or twice a week in all seasons, and they keep a few rods at the ready for anyone who wants to give it a try.

Besides fishing from their hotspot at ODU, club members have rented kayaks and borrowed john boats to land puppy drum, speckled trout and Spanish mackerel. From the Green Machine, they snagged marlin, mahi mahi and a dock full of sea bass. They reeled in red drum from Hatteras beaches and competed in collegiate bass fishing tournaments as far away as Michigan.

The club, named ODU's 2020 Student Organization of the Year, trudges out at low tide to pick up trash along the campus shoreline. To raise money for equipment and ODU scholarships, it hosts the Monarch Cobia Classic tourney, which netted $117,000 last year and will be held July 14 to 16.

The club's sponsors include L.L. Bean, which donated the slick chest waders that Harley wore that frigid day. After a couple of hours, the members called it quits without a single catch. No one complained.

Scores of U.S. colleges boast fishing clubs. But as Parker Brandt, 19, a sport management major from Chesterfield, noted, ODU's is unusual in at least one respect.

"You can saltwater-fish right on campus," Brandt said. It's one of the reasons he chose ODU.

"There's tons of fish out here," added Lamb, a 22-year-old mechanical engineering major from Hampton. "We're incredibly lucky to be here."

See more photos of ODU's Fishing Club in the upcoming summer issue of Monarch magazine.


The Old Dominion University Alumni Association (ODUAA) will hold its fifth annual Monarch Cobia Classic fishing tournament from July 14 to 16. Proceeds will benefit the ODUAA Scholarship Fund.

The event, which originated in 2017, helps support 38 scholarships per year. Since its inception, it has doubled in size, making it one of the largest cobia tournaments on the East Coast. Last year, the Cobia Classic drew its largest attendance, with 72 registered boats and 25 event sponsors.

The first day of the Cobia Classic will consist of a captains' meeting, followed by two days of fishing, culminating with a dock party. There will be weigh stations in Virginia Beach and on the Peninsula, and the dock party will be at Ballyhoos in Virginia Beach. Cash awards will be presented to the top five teams, plus for the heaviest fish and "lucky dog." Teams can have up to six anglers.

Registration is $450, and sponsorship opportunities range from $250 to $10,000.

To register or for more information, visit

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