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Humility, hard work key to Alabama upstart's bass fishing journey
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 three years in a row, from 2018 to 2020. The tournament began in 2014 and has been held on Kentucky Lake every year. Smith won in 2018 and 2019 while partnered with Grayson Morris, and in 2020 with Hayden Marbut.
Smith is a well-mannered young man with a winning smile and a good head on his shoulders. He was raised right, fishing “all the time” with his father, Drayton, his grandfather Bo Stanford, and his uncle Robbey Stanford. Growing up, he regularly shared the boat with friend and mentor Joey Nania, a Mercury Pro Team member and one of the hosts of the “Sweetwater” television show. Another famous Mercury Pro Team member, professional angler Aaron Martens, also mentored Smith and contributed to his maturation both as a person and as an angler.
With ample talent, mature humility and export mentorship, Smith appears to be well on his way to more fishing success in the future.
The Bassmaster Classic
2020 was an eventful year on the water for Smith in many ways. In March, thanks to a B.A.S.S. invitation he earned by winning the 2019 High School National Championship, Smith and his then team partner, Morris, participated in the events at the 2020 Bassmaster Classic held on Lake Guntersville in Alabama. They held the American flag and led the field out at takeoff each morning in their Mercury 250hp Pro XS-powered Nitro Z20 bass boat and were also allowed to fish on day two of the three-day tournament.
“The Bassmaster Classic was an experience that I will never forget,” Smith recalled. “To have the opportunity to be a part of that tournament was breathtaking. Looking around, I saw all of the pros I have always looked up to over the years. Having that experience made me want to get back to that tournament even more.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 High School National Championship was held in October, under conditions drastically different than the August timeframe for Smith’s previous two championship victories.
“I was honestly speechless when we won,” he said. “Just to get to that tournament is a huge deal, and to win, that is a blessing. I have been truly blessed through my years of fishing, and I thank the Lord for it. To win the National Championship the first two years was an incredible feat, but to win it a third time was crazy because the first two years we competed in August. The fishing we did those years was shallow-water bushes in the backs of creeks. In October, the fishing was completely different, which made the win feel that much better.”
Smith and Marbut weighed in 47 pounds, 5 ounces of bass over three days to win the 2020 championship by nearly 10 pounds.
“We mainly fished topwater ubaits and lipless crankbaits. The water temperatres were much lower. The final day was some of the worst conditions I’ve ever fished in.”
The 2020 High School National Championship victory earned Smith that coveted return trip to the Bassmaster Classic, currently slated for June 2021 on Lake Ray Roberts in Texas.
“Last year at Guntersville, we got to go out and see how we could do beside the pros,” Smith said. “We found some fish in practice, but there were a lot of competitors in the area on the day we fished. We were told to make sure and stay out of the way, so we ended up not bringing in any keepers. This year the plan is to focus on out-of-the-way places. Hopefully, we can find a spot like that and catch five big ones and prove ourselves on the stage.”
Being on stage to weigh big bass is, not surprisingly, Smith’s career aspiration.
“My ultimate career goal is to become a professional angler. That is all I have ever wanted in life and is what I’m striving to do,” he said. “My parents support me 100% and want me to succeed. If God allows me to be a pro angler, then I am up for it. If that doesn’t work, then I will use my degree from Auburn and work in the fishing industry. I’m getting the ‘pro angler’s degree,’ which is a bachelor of science in marketing.”
The Benefit of Wise Counsel
Part of Smith’s fishing inspiration is attributable to his special relationship with Major League Fishing pro Aaron Martens of Leeds, Alabama. Aaron’s daughter Jordan attends Briarwood Christian School and fishes with Smith’s cousin Sadie.
“Tucker has enormous potential to reach the pinnacle of our sport,” Aaron said. “Not only is he an intuitive angler, but he’s kind, charismatic and well-spoken.”
The pro is a three-time Bassmaster Angler of the Year. At 48, he is currently battling life-threatening brain cancer.
“I have known Aaron for a few years now, and it is incredible how knowledgeable he is about fishing. Uncle Robbey and I were in the boat with Aaron back in April (2020) when he had his first brain incident and seizures,” said Smith. “It was a scary experience, for sure, but I’m glad we were with him. If we were not there, he would not have been able to get off the water alone. I am also very blessed to call ‘A-Mart’ a friend.
“Robbey, Aaron, our other fishing buddy, Joe, and I have a group chat where we all lift each other up. I am truly grateful for the people like Aaron whom God has put in my life.”
Smith has soaked up Martens’ advice about fishing and life. With credentials that include a three-peat of the Bassmaster High School National Championship, Smith is also a more-than-capable candidate to give aspiring anglers some advice.
“Fish as much as you can,” he offered. “You always learn when you’re on the water. When I go fishing, I find myself figuring out something new and better to apply to future situations. Another tip I would give would be to fish what you are comfortable with. Nowadays, people think too much about what other anglers do and lose focus on their confidence techniques.”
Smith also was the beneficiary of time in the boat with some caring and thoughtful boat captains. (All high school teams are required to have a boat captain to run the outboard motor. The captain can also offer advice and support during the day.) He recognizes how those experiences helped him succeed. The Auburn Tiger also has some advice for adult boat captains participating in high school fishing.
“Have fun and enjoy the experience on the water. You don’t get the opportunity to do this forever, so enjoy it while it lasts,” Smith said. “Make it fun. Don’t get caught up with winning. Yes, winning is great, but if you are not having fun, the win will definitely not happen as easily. I’m happy that I got a few wins with my dad in the boat as a boat captain, and I will never forget those times. In college, there are no boat captains. Time flies, and I’m glad I got to experience those times with my dad and friends captaining me.”
Big Plans for the Future
Since arriving at Auburn last fall, Smith has fished more often than at any point in his life. Though travel restrictions interfered with his first college fishing season, Smith has a busy schedule lined up for 2021. He’s fishing the Southern Collegiate Bass Open Series, the Bassmaster College Series, the MLF Big5 College Fishing series and a good number of local tournaments. Smith fished a Bassmaster Open last fall and plans to fish several of those in 2021, too.
He’s certainly taking his own best advice and fishing as much as he can. Perhaps one day, Tucker Smith will be back on that Bassmaster Classic stage as a competitor, mixing it up with the rest of the field all three days.