The 2018 tournament fishing season is getting started in many parts of the United States. For those in the northern parts of the United Stats and Canada, the season isn’t far off. Before we get there, we took some time to review the 2017 season with a very successful tournament angler, Tyler Smith. Tyler had some great finishes in 2017, and we discuss the keys to his success.
You are a graduate of the Penn State bass fishing team. How did your time fishing competitively as part of the Penn State University team make you a better angler for your tournament fishing now that you have graduated?
My time fishing at Penn State has meant everything to me. Before then, I had only fished for bass pond-hopping a handful of times. I was mostly a trout fishing kind of guy. One day I was just looking online for clubs to join that sounded interesting. I ended up finding the bass fishing club, and decided to join.
That year our school partnered up with some schools in New York to create a college fishing series where they had volunteer boaters come and take us out in tournaments. They allowed us to use their boat except for the outboard. The owner would drive the boat if we wanted to move to different spots.
My very first tournament was on the Mohawk River in New York. I believe we finished in 5th place. This was my first time ever catching smallmouth. I honestly had no idea what I was doing the entire time.
None the less, it got me hooked. I figured if I was able to place how I did with my lack of knowledge and experience, maybe this could be something I could actually become good at doing.
The next April I ended up buying a small bass boat and entered some FLW College events. My partner and I fished on Lake Chautauqua in New York and placed high enough to qualify for the regional championship located on the Upper Chesapeake Bay in Maryland.
There we ended up finishing in 3rd place out of the Northeast Region, and qualified for the 2016 FLW College National Championship located on Lake Keowee in South Carolina. The experience of eventually doing that was incredible and has really changed my life.
In short, the biggest thing I learned from the experience at Penn State was the fishing in general. It opened me up to these new opportunities and created a new passion for me, new experiences, and many friendships that will last a lifetime.
Lets walk through the 2017 season with you. Lets start with Octoraro Reservoir in Pennsylania in the spring. How did you finish in this tournament?
At Octoraro I finished in 2nd place, with one fish short of a limit. I actually had another 3 to 3.5lb fish on that day and lost him as I tried to flip it into the boat…it still stings. However, it was my first time fishing there and I had a great experience. I am an up close and personal fisherman, skipping jigs and flipping/pitching into tight places is my go to. Beating the banks and casting my jig to as many pieces of cover as I could until I found fish was the key to my day.
In June, it looks like you headed to the Upper part of the Chesapeake Bay and took 2nd. How did that day unfold for you?
That day was pretty slow, and a tough bite for most. I actually rode as a co-angler that day as I was having boat problems. I knew the guy well that I was fishing with so we were able to combine our knowledge a little bit that day. I caught my biggest fish that day within my first 5 casts. After that it was pretty slow.
The trick on the bay is being able to read and follow the tide as it comes in or out of the bay. We just kept pounding it out, hitting as many docks or pieces of cover as we could. There isn’t a large amount of fish there, so it may be difficult to keep your focus. You have to realize that you can catch a giant on any cast there.
I believe that was the key. I just kept grinding and picking a fish off here and there. A lot of times the fish came off a piece of cover the boater had just finished casting to. It was just one of those days…can’t explain it.
Impressively in July you went to Cayuga Lake in New York and grabbed a win the first time you fished there. How did you approach quickly figuring out the summertime patterns on the lake?
Man, this tournament was one of a kind. I was never there and didn’t have any practice. I was just going to fish, have a good time, and learn a new body of water.
I started that day on the east side of the lake fishing a weed edge in 8-10 feet of water. I picked up a fish or two on a Nate’s Custom Baits Hybrid-Vibe, a chatter bait type lure. All morning though, it was a heavy and constant wind coming from the west and I was getting beat up. Eventually, my trolling motor quit working correctly and would only turn at a very slow speed. I eventually found out I had a bad battery.
Not being able to keep up with the wind, I headed straight over to the west side of the lake. I began fishing a weed edge and just drifting down the lake with the wind and doing what I could. I eventually got to a spot and caught a few small fish. It was kind of a community spot with 10 or so other anglers congregated in a somewhat general area.
I stayed because of catching some fish, and because I was doing all I could do with my trolling motor just to stay in one spot. In about an hour or so’s time I caught enough fish and kept culling up to get enough weight to win that day. All I was doing was throwing around a Texas rigged Senko with a small weight. I just completely picked apart the area I was at.
A little later in July you won a tournament on the only body of water that give me a skunk this year. My only other trip there produced one small fish. What am I missing about Pennsylvania’s Leaser Lake?
Man, I love this lake. To me, this is the best local lake with the chance of catching good fish. It seems almost every fish in there is 2.5 pounds or better, and Ive seen or caught a handful of 3 to 5 pound fish.
However, the lake is very hit or miss, depending on the time of the year. Through the spawn and early summer, the fish are gonna be on the bank, on the endless pieces of cover in that lake. Once July hits they start heading deep again and you can find them out on points and ledges.
Am I missing any tournaments from 2017?
I fished in two clubs during the 2017 season so I had a few more tournaments. The main club I fish with is Schuylkill County Bass Anglers, which is through the PA Bass Federation. My other tournament finishes were:
Potomac River: 8th
Upper Chesapeake Bay again: 5th
Keuka Lake: 4th
Canandaigua Lake: 6th
Conesus Lake: 4th
Oneida Lake: 6th
Blue Marsh: 4th
It was my first time fishing on each of these places besides the Upper Bay and Blue Marsh, and the first full season I was able to fish. My finishes were good for a 4th place finish in my club for the year.
If you are not fishing a tournament, where is your favorite place to fish?
If I do not have a tournament and have the time, the Upper Bay is my favorite place to go. You can do any type of fishing style there as you’d like. Whatever you enjoy doing, you can find somewhere to do it. Whether it be docks, marinas, rip rap, laydowns, grass flats, its all there.
I also love that you have the chance to catch a fish of a lifetime on any cast there. There may not be an overabundance of fish, but you have a legitimate chance of catching 3 to 7 pound fish there every time you go.
Were you Santa or the elf out on the boat?
Haha, I was definitely the elf. My best friend and often fishing partner Bill Ryland was Santa. You have actually interviewed him before too. As far as I could tell the costumes didn’t scare the fish away. It was an abnormally warm day just before Christmas so we decided to go fish and dress like that for fun. Turned out we actually had a really good day catching fish on jerk baits, and getting a lot of beeps from passing cars. We were on Blue Marsh Lake.
You support Nates Custom Baits. What are your favorite baits out of his line?
My favorite baits from Nate are the Hybrid-Vibe and the Structure Jig. The movement of the Hybrid-Vibe and its skirt is seriously unreal, and it catches fish, plain and simple.
The structure jig I also love because of how it naturally stands up on the bottom. It gives an added lifelike feature to a jig, and I believe helps get more fish in the boat. Nate was also on the Penn State team and is a friend of mine, so I like to support him.
Currently, I am also on the ConnectScale pro staff. It’s an awesome product, and there is an app for you phone. The scale and app work together to tell you exactly what weight you have in your live well, and a bunch of other statistics as well. Without it, I would not have won that tournament on Leaser Lake. I was culling up by literally ounces at a time, or less, and just simply wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference without the scale.
Throughout college I was sponsored by Shimano, G Loomis, Costa, Gamma, Power Pro, Jackall, Rod Sox, and Plano. Although not techinally “sponsored” anymore, I still receive some deals here and there and fully support and use their products.
Thank you so much Tyler! Hoping that 2018 is another very successful for you. I will be following Tyler on Instagram @tyler_smith7 . I will actually be watching very closely to figure out how to unlock the secrets of Pennsylvania’s Leaser Lake.
Read More Dock Talk about Nate’s Custom Baits: Fishing a Hybrid Vibe Jig for Potomac River Bass