To say that former Towamensing Township resident Robby Zellers loves fish is an understatement.
He recently graduated from Penn State University's Wildlife Fisheries Science Program, and is currently employed by the Wyoming State Game and Fish Commission, where his main responsibility is studying fish behavior.
Guess what he does in his free time?
"My family is really big into fishing," Zellers said. "Ever since I was a kid, we've been taking yearly trips up to Canada. I've always seen fishing as a creative outlet."
As a fish technician in Pinedale, Wyo., Zellers spends his days working alongside biologists on various wildlife projects. His most recent venture is an ironic one: eliminating the local brook trout population. Although he spent years revering the species as the Pennsylvania state fish, Zellers is now looking for ways to harm it.
"They're threatening the cutthroat trouts in the creeks," he said. "It's pretty funny how many I've been catching, considering that I had to stay away from them for years."
In addition to his work on the cutthroat project, Zeller has participated in educational programs for elementary schools and assisted with local Pinedale fishing derbies and tournaments.
This latter duty holds a special place in Zeller's heart, for he spent a good chunk of his collegiate career competing in similar events. In fact, it was this involvement that springboarded him to his current position.
During Zeller's tenure at Penn State, he was an active member of the university's bass fishing club. Although soccer was his sport of choice when he was a student at Palmerton Area High School, Zellers made the switch to fishing after sustaining multiple ACL injuries.
"I had no choice," he said. "I had to give it up. But I'm a pretty competitive person, so I knew I had to do something."
After doing some research, Zeller discovered his school's then-fledgling club and was instantly attracted to it. For the next two years, Zellers was one of the club's most active members, competing in various tournaments across the country.
"People think that bass fishing is a sport that anyone can just pick up and be good at," he said. "It actually takes a lot of skill, and a lot of newcomers are easily frustrated when they get out on the water for the first time."
Luckily, Zellers has plenty of talent to go along with his passion. He found success at multiple tournaments, but cites his appearence – with longtime fishing partner Derrick Hughes – at the 2010 Southern Collegiate Bass Fishing Series tournament in Alabama this past spring as his fondest memory of competing.
"It was totally different fishing than we were used to," he said, "and we finished 17th, but I was happy. We fished to our strengths and beat out a lot of Southern schools."
Mark Heckaman, the deputy commissioner for the Collegiate Bass Anglers Association (a nonprofit organization that aims to spread the sport of collegiate bass fishing) met Zellers during the youth's days on the collegiate fishing circuit, and extolled his praises as an angler.
"Robby's skills really developed during his time at Penn State," Heckaman said. "There are several great fishermen at the school, and he stood out as someone who was dedicated and passionate to the sport.
"I think that being surrounded by plenty of good fishermen allowed Robby to cultivate the skills within him. He's a great example of what our organization wants to do: build champions both on and off the water."
Although Zellers is currently competing in the amateur Forrest L. Wood bass fishing series, he's not sure if a career as a professional angler is in his future.
"It's a lot of work, and a lot of time away from home," he said. "Right now, I'm content to fish at my own pace, and just enjoy it as a hobby."
What he is sure of however, is that he is extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to turn his lifelong passion into a career.
And that's no fish story.