Bass fishing success has come early and often for 19-year-old Tucker Smith. The Birmingham, Alabama, angler is a college freshman at Auburn University. A 2020 graduate of Briarwood Christian School, Smith won the Bassmaster High School National Championship an astounding ...
How guiding has influenced this angler’s success.
When not competing in the Bassmaster Elite Series, Lee Livesay of Longview, Texas, is a professional guide on famed Lake Fork in Texas. Individuals fortunate enough to book a trip with Lee, get to spend a day with the four-time Bassmaster Champion and one of the hottest and most successful anglers on tour.
In April of 2021, Lee made an epic comeback on the final day of the Bassmaster Elite Series, capturing the tournament for the second year in a row. You can read all about his amazing comeback here. In April of this year, Livesay earned a Bassmaster Opens win on Ross Barnett Reservoir in Mississippi. Then, in his next time out, Livesay won his third career Bassmaster Elite Series crown on his home waters of Lake Fork this past May.
Fishing with Livesay on Lake Fork is the fishing equivalent of being on the field for batting practice at Yankee Stadium or on the sidelines of a Packers’ game at fabled Lambeau Field.
The personable and entirely down-to-earth Mercury Pro Team member from East Texas is quick to credit much of his success as a professional angler to his approach to guiding. We sat down with Lee on an off-day to find out how that dynamic works for him.
What made you want to become a guide?
Livesay: From the time I was seven years old, I’ve wanted to do something outdoors for a living - hunting or fishing. Once I decided that I wanted to become a professional angler, my uncle suggested guiding as a way to earn money. What I found was that it also helped me become a better angler.
You go into the bait shops at Lake Fork and see all the guides, and there’s just an aura about it. I moved from Oklahoma to Lake Fork in my mid-20s to guide there.
How has guiding helped you as a professional angler?
At my peak, I as guiding 310 days out of the year. As a guide, you have to catch fish every day, regardless of the weather, water conditions or the client’s abilities. You have to try different techniques every day, and that taught me how to fish in many different situations.
How do you stay engaged for that many consecutive days?
Guide trips aren’t cheap. People spend a lot of money to travel from all over the world to fish Lake Fork. I’ve guided anglers from Italy, Canada, Japan, China and all over the U.S. If someone is going to spend their hard-earned money with me, I am going to do the best job possible for them.
How does guiding on Lake Fork help you in tournaments there?
Having a general knowledge of the lake and being able to get around safely (there’s a lot of standing timber, and the water level is often low) and check spots was helpful. Knowing the seasonal patterns and what baits to throw on Lake Fork is important. For example, before this last Elite Series tournament, I took every big glide bait out of my boat before practice started. While some anglers did well using these baits, I didn’t think I could win with them on that particular week, and it’s a risky bet.
How does guiding on Lake Fork affect you adversely for tournaments there?
Trying too hard to locate and fish for what I call “sneaky stuff” often happens to anglers fishing their home lake. You can be tempted to try and catch fish in places no one knows about when you really don’t have to. Sometimes the fish are in the most obvious places on the lake, so knowing how to catch them is often more important than having secret sneaky spots.
The other possible negative is the added pressure of being the local guide and a favorite to win. You get a ton of calls, interviews, podcast requests, and a lot of boats following on the water. And everyone is expecting a win. I enjoy every minute of it, though. It fuels me for sure. Having a flotilla of boats out there cheering for me during those two wins on Fork was amazing.
How has guiding grown your business and fan base over the years?
I attribute much of my early success as an angler to guiding because of how it connected me to eventual sponsors. In 2019, my rookie year in the Elite Series, 95% of my sponsorships were directly tied to guiding connections. That’s where it all started, and that has continued, too. Every single week I am on the phone talking to some company about their business.
One of the things I’ve seen is that my guiding clientele is at that point in their lives where they have the financial wherewithal to purchase the products that we use on our guide trip and that I use in tournaments.
Do you have some advice for people picking a guide?
Keep in mind that you’re not always going to catch fish, but the guide should work hard all day for you. That kind of effort is really what you’re looking for in a guide. Do your research; word of mouth is the best. If nine out of 10 people tell you that a particular guide works hard all day to put you on a fish, that’s a good indicator. Don’t rely on a single message board or social media post from a guide. Look around and you’ll see the same names popping up again and again. Find and talk to people who have been out with the guide.
When you first contact the guide, make sure to fully explain your goals. If you want to catch one or two giant fish, you need to plan for the appropriate time of year. If you want to learn how to use electronics to find fish, for example, you won’t want to book a trip to Lake Fork in February. May or June would be much better. As you get closer to the trip, ask what time of day is best and be flexible.
What advice do you have for people preparing for a guide trip?
There’s not a single guide out there who can guarantee that their clients will catch fish every time they go out, but you can still have a good day on the water. Keep your expectations realistic. As I mentioned, a professional guide is always going to work hard for you.
Ask your guide if you need to bring anything, and let them know if you want to use some of your own rods and reels.
Having a younger child out with you will impact the type of fishing you can do. Recently, I had a group with a seven-year-old boy, so we didn’t go to Lake Fork to catch six and seven-pounders using heavy tackle in thick timber. Because he couldn’t physically do that, we went to another lake I guide on to catch fish during the afternoon. Having a conversation ahead of time about details like this can make things go a lot smoother.
Finally, remember to be on time for the trip, let the guide do their job and have fun.
Between tournaments, guiding, and a new baby girl, Livesay’s schedule is booked up for the next couple of years, but if you’re lucky enough to get a trip with Lee, you might also pick his brain on the business side of fishing. He may know just as much about fishing off the water as he does on it. For more information on Livesay’s guide service, visit his Facebook page.