In some ways, Tyler Stewart of West Monroe is your ordinary 23-year old bass fisherman. He fishes hard. He fishes often. He has a passion for catching bass. He pretty much fishes anytime he can and he’s an information junkie about techniques, fishing equipment, electronics and boats. He loves to compete with others.
Where Tyler is different from most is that he decided to do something most other 23-year old bass fishermen only dream of. He’s good at it, so it’s no surprise he’s off to a fast start. He took the plunge to pursue his passion as a full-time professional bass fisherman on the FLW tour this year. When he did that, he imagined a lot of things. He even had dreams of being in the running for the Rookie of the Year on the Circuit and qualifying for the championship FLW Cup. But he never really thought about having to hook up his big Ranger bass rig and heading to Detroit, Michigan to do it. But here he is…
“I guess you are right, I knew the schedule but I never really thought about pulling my boat to Detroit and fishing that far up north to make the Cup,” he said during recent fishing trip I took with him to Lake D’Arbonne. Detroit? In case you haven’t mapquested that lately, it’s a 16 hour drive and 1,063.9 miles. Tyler will also have to master smallmouth bass, the predominate species in those waters, to reach his lofty goals.
Fortunately, all three of those things are within a couple of big bass bites from happening for the former ULM Fishing Team angler. First of all, he’s in third place in the 2018 FLW Rookie of the Year race. That would be great to accomplish. But even more importantly, he’s on the bubble to make the FLW Cup. The way he can do that is finish well in the final FLW event of the year on Lake St. Clair outside of Detroit June 28-July 1. Load ’em up and head to Motor City!
More on that later. First, let’s go fishing.
Tyler and I have been trying to go fishing for a while but with his busy road schedule, he hasn’t had too many chances to fish just for fun near home. We got to do that a few days back and I got to see his growing skills first hand.
Today’s approach to pro bass fishing isn’t caching a lot of fish. It’s catching a lot of big fish. To do that, you have to be able to pick out spots that big bass hang out in and pinpoint how to catch them using your electronics. Tyler demonstrated that to me as we idled around open water over a submerged creek bed and saw big fish on the graph in one of the bends. Tyler backed off, tied on a big crank bait and eased into position. About 10 casts later, he had landed seven big fish up to five pounds. That’s not your typical late May trip on Lake D’Arbonne.
“It’s all about finding the big fish and presenting the bait at just the right angle and right speed on the structure,” he says. “It’s hard to explain to people what you have to do. You just have to learn to do it. Study the fish. Find out what they like and how to present the bait. It is the way that most tournaments are won.”
The deep water bite was amazing. We also caught some fish the “normal” Louisiana way by tossing lures like frogs and jigs around shallow water structure. But they weren’t the kind of fish that will win you a tournament. Those deep water fish were.
Now, back to that race to qualify for the Cup.
“It’s important. It’s really important,” he said. “Making the FLW Cup is the goal of every angler on the tour. Once you get there, it’s a whole new ballgame. It can open up a lot of opportunities.”
The Cup has 40 spots for the top 40 points earners on the tour. Here’s the way FLW’s website breaks down the current race:
“As of now, Matt Becker and Cory Johnston hold the final two spots in 39th and 40th place, respectively. They’re both accomplished smallmouth anglers. Johnston, in particular, is a big-water smallmouth expert who should probably be on everyone’s Fantasy Fishing team for St. Clair. Don’t expect either of them to blow it and miss the Cup. Becker has 797 points, and Johnston 796.
JT Kenney and Tyler Stewart just barely trail Johnston, with 795 and 793 points, respectively. JT has made the top 10 at the Detroit River before and is experienced chasing smallmouths up north. He should understand the risks and rewards of dealing with big water, and will likely have a good enough showing to make the Cup. Stewart, of West Monroe, La., is a rookie on Tour and has never fished an FLW tournament up north. He has a lot of work to do to prepare for the finale.”
Lake St. Clair, along with the Detroit River, Lake Erie and the St. Clair River, comprise one of the best smallmouth fisheries on the planet. The volume of productive water available for pros to fish makes it a premier tournament destination. There’s a lot of strategy involved in this derby, too. Everyone should catch plenty of beefy bronze bass, but if one area is producing slightly better quality, that’s where pros will need to go if they want to contend for the win. Of course, if the best area requires running open water in windy conditions (and it’ll almost certainly blow hard at least one day), then pros will be left to wonder whether they should risk it for the win or play it safe for points.
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Trying your hand on the pro tour is first and foremost about being able to catch fish. But with the expenses involved, it’s hard to make it on tournament earnings alone. Stewart says sponsors like Monster Energy Drinks, V&M baits, Raymarine, Extreme Outdoors, Kysek Coolers and Honey Hole make it possible for him to pursue his dream. He couldn’t be on the pro tour without them, he says. And he’s hoping success the remainder of this season will help him land even more.