Local Tournament Pros: The Overlooked Anglers of Bass Fishing

By Shaye Baker

As tournament anglers begin to experience success locally, thoughts of grandeur start to enter their minds. They begin to wonder if there’s a chance they can do it for a living. As that seed is planted, it’s nourished and watered. From the time that seed springs forth a single leaf from the ground, it’s pruned and cultivated. The ground around it aerated and the weeds plucked away. Then suddenly, an elephant’s foot blocks out the sun and comes crashing down to stomp the seedling into oblivion and bury it six inches in the ground.

The young mind has one very beautiful and crippling characteristic: naivety. As a kid catching a bass, you don’t take into consideration the millions of dollars a national touring pro will spend over the course of his life, the thousands of nights he’ll spend away from home, the countless hours of sleep lost worrying about catching bass to pay the bills. You just want to catch a bass and get paid to do it.

But what if there was another way? What if you could make $50,000 a year fishing while only spending $5,000 and sleeping in your own bed? Sounds like a pretty sweet gig. That’s the reality for a select few “local pros”.

A few anglers are able to do this in several states across the country, but just take Alabama for example. Guys like Russ Lane, Jamie Horton and Dustin Connell dominated locally before making the move to the national pro fishing circuits. But there are also anglers like Chris Rutland and Coby Carden who elected to stay in Alabama and try to continue to dominate locally; and dominate, they did.

Carden and Rutland are both certainly of the caliber necessary to contend for the $100,000 prizes the Bassmaster Elites, FLW Tour and MLF Bass Pro Tour award along their trails. But a select few, like the aforementioned anglers, are actually able to gross $100,000 some years right here at home while spending a fraction of what the national guys fork up each year.

I recently spent the day on the water with Michael Smith, a young angler from Alabama whose presence has been felt locally over the last few years, to discuss what it takes to become a local pro.

(1 of 8)CALIBER

First off, you have to be a hammer. As previously mentioned, Smith has proven his prowess on the local level and that skill level is obviously of utmost importance. Though a blind hog will root up an acorn every once in a while, you’re not going to win locally or on the road often if you’re not very, very good. Some would say it’s even harder to win consistently on the local level than it is to win on the road.

For the traveling band, the anglers step onto a new playing field every week. Granted there’s always someone on the national circuit that’s a local for the week. But to further prove my point, a local winning a national level event is one of the rarest occurrences in professional fishing. Until Boyd Duckett won the Bassmaster Classic in 2007, no angler had won the Classic in their home state since its inception 37 years earlier.

Fishing against the same guys who frequent the same waters week in and week out minimizes the advantage of local knowledge and levels the playing field. So to be a local pro, you have to be very, very good.


Originally from Florida, Smith cut his teeth fishing across the southeast with considerable success early on and found himself dreaming the same dreams that fill the minds of most young anglers.

“All I ever really wanted to do was fish, but I didn’t really know if I was good enough to do that for a living or not,” Smith said. “I was blessed to get to go to college and earn my electrical engineering degree. While I was in college, I started doing well enough that I realized, if this is what I want to do, I can probably do it. I don’t think I would’ve gone out there and been the next KVD or anything, but I thought if I wanted to, I could at least pay the bills.

“The problem was, by the time I got out of college and got my first big-boy job, it was a pretty sweet gig. I go to work, sit in an office, make good money, have great retirement and great benefits. All that stuff you don’t think about when you’re 12 years old reading Bassmaster.

“That in combination with meeting my wife, who already had a little girl from being married before, who basically thinks I’m her dad, and now having a little one of our own, being gone 300 days a year to fish professionally just doesn’t look as attractive as it used to.”

So a decision had to be made. But as astute as Robert Frost was, it seems he overlooked the third option in Smith’s case. When the two paths diverged in the woods, Smith didn’t solely take the one heavily trodden or rarely walked, but rather split the difference and kept one foot in each trail.

(3 of 8)A BIG BREAK

Sponsors are a critical part of the game if you want to make fishing a profitable venture. Though entry fees and traveling expenses at the local level are far cheaper, many of the other costs associated with competitive fishing at any level are the same across the board.

Boats and the equipment that completes top-of-the-line rigs these days can top $100,000, especially when you add a tow vehicle to round out the total tournament package. Add to that the gas bill, occasional hotel stay and the cost of rods, reels, line and other tackle and it’s hard to see how anyone can make money without a little help winning a couple grand here and there around the house.

However, sponsorships and partnerships are all too often the main focus of up-and-coming anglers and not put into the context of what they actually are. If you pursue sponsors, you’ll rarely ever acquire them. When your focus is success on the water, sponsorships become a byproduct of that success. If you want to show up on a company’s radar, you don’t send them a DM on Instagram. You need a big break.

“I won the America Bass Anglers National Championship in 2011 on the co-angler side,” Smith said. “That was the first year I ever fished anything other than club tournaments and Federation Nation events. I won 2 of the 5 regular season events that year too. So I made like $61,000 when I was a 20-year-old co-angler.

“That opened a ton of doors for me. Basically after that season, the ABA put me on their pro-staff and have been my title sponsor ever since. Every year, they pay all my entry fees to all of their events. That’s like $1,300 or $1,400 a year in entry fees. Then on top of that, all the relationships they have opened a lot of doors. Basically, after they sponsored me I was able to get on with Triton and Mercury and a few other companies. I added probably 80% of the sponsors I have now after winning that tournament.”

In 2012, while finishing up his degree, Smith elected to fish as a co-angler again. Among other high finishes for the year, he capped the season off by finishing runner-up in the 2012 ABA National Championship and in just two years had amassed nearly $100,000 with a fishing rod in the back of someone else’s boat.


Quality local anglers have a to tendency find their way into the same boat. Take the group of Alabama anglers mentioned at the beginning of this article for instance. Before Russ Lane made the move to the Elite Series, he won a lot of money fishing team tournaments with Chris Rutland. Before Jamie Horton made the same move, he and Coby Carden won more than their fair share fishing together. After both Carden’s and Rutland’s counterparts had moved on, they became permanent fixtures in one another’s boats.

This phenomenon has two derivatives: Iron sharpens iron and its better to win together than to beat each other up. The same was the case for Smith, who grew up fishing against and eventually with, Bassmaster Elite Series and FLW Tour champion Drew Benton.

“Drew and I were super good buddies growing up and are still good friends,” Smith said. “We got started fishing around the house against each other and then started fishing together after beating up on each other for a few years. Those were the good ole days. We had a ton of success before he moved on and I started doing my own thing.

“He took his path which has worked out really well for him and I took mine. He’s fishing professionally at the highest level and having lots of success, I chose not to go that route but I’m having a lot of success at the local and regional level and I think we’re both really happy.

“We fish just alike. I’m not saying I would have done as good as he has or, who knows, I may have even done better. But he’s definitely making a living doing nothing but fishing and seeing him do that has proven to me that if that’s really what I would have wanted to do, then at least in my mind I believe I could have had a similar career to what he has had.”

(5 of 8)A GOOD JOB

Not only does having a good job make the decision to leave it and pursue professional fishing that much harder, but a good job is also a prerequisite for being able to compete at the local level. More importantly, a lenient job.

Time on the water is an absolute must when it comes to becoming a dominant angler at any level. Many of the anglers who rise to the top at the local level either own their own business or work a flexible schedule that accommodates that need for time on the water.

Smith’s work allows him enough vacation each year to spend week days practicing for the bigger local events. His job is also fairly structured where he’s able to punch out right at 3:30 most days and get time in on the water in the evenings, even on days when he does work.


The majority of the money won by Smith and other local pros doesn’t come from the tournament organizations and entry fees, but rather contingency and loyalty programs. You can make an extra buck or two by using just about anything these days. The overall purse can quickly grow if you’re in the right boat, pulled by the right truck, pushed by the right motor, looking at the right graph… you get the idea.

By using their products and registering for their programs, Smith is eligible for contingency awards offered by Triton Boats, Mercury Marine, Toyota, Leer and T-H Marine.

“The ABA Opens pay better than anything else locally and even in those, if I win and get the guaranteed $5,000 for first, I’ll win another $8,000 or so in contingency awards alone,” Smith said. “And if the winner of the event isn’t eligible for the contingency programs, most of these companies will still payout a highest finisher award.

“Like with Triton Gold, even if I don’t win, if I’m the highest finisher in a Triton I still get $500. There are a lot of times I’m able to take advantage of that just by finishing pretty high and not even winning.”

(7 of 8)LOCATION

Obviously location is important if you want to be a local pro. There are a lot of fisheries around the country and all are definitely not created equally when it comes to the local tournament scene. You need a home base that not only boasts a good local tournament scene but also sees a fair number of regional events come to its shores each year.

Although Lake Eufaula is an hour-and-a-half form Michael’s home, it’s certainly the closest and what would be considered his home waters at this point. Having a home body of water that hosts big tournaments is critical to being a local pro.

In addition to local pot tournaments most weekends throughout the spring, summer and fall, Eufuala has hosted two ABAs, a BFL, the American Fishing Tour National Championship and the Ray Scott National Championship. With Smith’s contingency eligibilities, there where hundreds of thousands of dollars up for grabs in those five tournaments in first-place prizes alone.


Obviously, becoming a local pro is easier said than done, and not necessarily any easier a task to accomplish than becoming a national touring pro. But this article does layout the blueprint. Few have ever made real money locally without all these crucial components. Most of this stuff is also critical to starting a national touring pro career.

So if you’re a kid looking out into the stars, dreaming about fishing for money. Print this out, nail it to your wall and get to work. Dreams are important fuel for the fire, but gas poured on the ground won’t burn for long. You’re going to need to collect a lot of firewood. It’s time to put in work.

Gear Review: Shimano SLX DC

Gear Review: Shimano SLX DC

Last year, Shimano introduced the Curado DC reel with its I-DC4 digital brake control system designed to reduce the learning curve for anglers new to baitcasting reels, while raising the performance level for experienced fishermen. Now, Shimano expands the lineup of I-DC4 reels with the budget-friendly SLX DC 150 series. Essentially making it much easier to use a baitcaster, the digital brake control system utilizes a microcomputer to monitor spool speed 1,000 times every second and apply the perfect amount of brake to prevent backlash and maximize distance.

Built on Shimano’s established SLX low-profile platform, these reels feature a sturdy all-metal HAGANE body, A-RB anti-rust bearings and a tournament performance long handle. Models include the SLX DC150 and left-hand retrieve DC151 with 6.2:1 gear ratios (26 inches of line per rotation), the SLX DC150HG and DC151HG with 7.4:1 gear ratios (31-inches), and the even higher speed SLX DC150XG and DC151XG with 8.5:1 gear ratios (36 inches).



I’d love to tell you I never backlash baitcasters, but there are far too many witnesses, including several Elite Series anglers, who would put an end to such self-indulgence. I’ve tossed a few baits on Shimano reels with the I-DC4 digital brake control system and have felt the difference. I like the external adjustable brake settings, which allow you to match the amount of control to four scenarios from max distance for lengthy casts to max brake for those challenging shots like dock skipping.

Umbrella Rigs for Great Lakes Smallies

by Jody White

Casey Smith has been throwing an umbrella rig since just a few weeks after Paul Elias let the world know about it in the 2011 FLW Tour event on Lake Guntersville.

“Me and my buddies around here started on it pretty early, and we learned how to throw it on Oneida Lake,” says Smith, who lives in upstate New York and booked three top-10 finishes in the Costa FLW Series in 2019. “When it blew up there was all the hype, so we started to tinker with it and realized that smallmouth would eat it, and ever since then I’ve learned how valuable a tool it is year-round.”

The umbrella rig hasn’t just been a fish catcher for Smith. For a few years, with the full details of the umbrella rig still relatively under wraps, he and a select group of friends basically paid their mortgages with it in every event they could fish on Oneida in the fall.

“We would go up with three of us in the boat and catch 150 fish,” says Smith of the early days on Oneida. “It would be ridiculous. They had never seen it. They were feeding up, and they weren’t running many tournaments back then because guys didn’t have it figured out. They’ve gotten used to it now, but then nobody knew. You could hook up and let the fish swim around, and you’d hook a second one a lot of the time. You could do it on purpose; it was crazy.”

Those days of seemingly infinite fish and easy money are gone, but it doesn’t mean he’s putting down the rig.

Smith says he basically keeps the umbrella rig tied on all year, but one of the best times to fish it in the North is the fall.

On the Great Lakes, he combs flats and points with it for some of the biggest limits of the season.

“You’re targeting fish that are batfish-oriented and feeding up for the wintertime,” says Smith. “They’ve moved up out of deep water and on to the flats, and they’re feeding up on bait very close to their wintering areas. They’re sitting on the same stuff they sit on deep in the summertime – rock veins, rock transitions and big boulders – just shallower.”

According to Smith, that fall transition is a great time to intercept smallmouths in 10 to 20 feet of water, before you need to start thinking vertically again.

“They move shallower, the bait moves shallower and then they go back out deeper to where they’re going to winter,” explains Smith. “We fish on the closest rock point or rock flat to where they’re going to winter.”

Because it’s the Great Lakes, you aren’t necessarily particularly close to the bank. Though some fall places are within a few casts of the shore, Smith is happy to fish hundreds of yards from the bank if that’s where the fish are and the right structure is present.

The umbrella rig is one of the best baits to tinker with, in part because the tournament limitations and state regulations create a lot of incentive for innovation. Smith has a two-hook rig he uses on Lake Champlain and a three-hook version for FLW events, but his most widely used rig is a standard five-wire model with blades.

Usually in tournaments Smith slings a Brown Dog Tackle umbrella rig, but on fun days he often uses a YUM YUMbrella Flash Mob Jr. to save a few dollars.

Most often, he starts out with five hand-poured 1/8-ounce heads then adds 1/4-ounce heads if he wants to go deeper. On the Great Lakes in the fall, his bait combo is a unique array of 4-inch Keitech Swing Impact swimbaits around the outside and a 3.8-inch Keitech Swing Impact FAT in the middle. His favorite colors are alewife and bluegill flash.

“I like that setup because the action on the Swing Impacts and the drag on the Swing Impacts is a little lighter, so the bait is a little easier to reel,” says Smith. “They’re feeding up on alewives and stuff like that. The bait is pretty big, so you can use a big bait. On a lake like Oneida, where the bait is pretty small, we’d probably use more like a 2.8-inch bait, but on the Great Lakes it’s alewives and perch.”

For tackle, Smith uses a 7-foot, 11-inch swimbait rod, a 6.3:1 gear ratio reel and fluorocarbon line.

“I stick with 20-pound almost all the time,” relays Smith. “We definitely used braid at first. I think most everybody was, but we switched pretty quick. We were straightening out swivels and hooks. The smallmouth, as soon as he grabs it, he turns the other way. We were having problems keeping the fish on, so we switched to the fluorocarbon.

“Also, some of the lakes around here are so clear. The fish obviously aren’t shy, but we didn’t want to take any chances. And it helps to keep it down. Most importantly, it’s that extra stretch that takes away the initial shock of the hookset.”

Though somewhat cumbersome to throw, especially with the wrong equipment, umbrella rigs don’t really require a tremendous amount of skill to use. Typically, the fish bite them hard and are landed easily, and you don’t have to make extreme adjustments. However, it’s important to make the most of each cast to avoid falling into the trap of “chunking and winding.”

“I never just reel it in,” says Smith. “You give it a flair, like you would with a ChatterBait or a spinnerbait. I give it a knock, where it’s just a brief pause on the reel, and then I knock it forward. And, if you’re keeping it down in the water column, usually at least once in the cast I’ll open the bail and let it fall and then give it a knock.”

Experimenting with retrieve depth is key as well. Though Smith doesn’t often drag the rig on the bottom, he knows that finding the right zone is important.

“Sometimes it’s up, sometimes it’s down, sometimes it’s in the middle,” says Smith. “If you’re not getting them up high, let it go down. Usually your first bite is a good indicator.”

Two things are for sure: If you live up north and haven’t thrown the rig you’re missing out, and if you’re coming up for your first taste of smallies you’d better bring some.

“Everywhere in this region it really works,” says Smith. “The St. Lawrence is the only place I haven’t gotten it to work at all, but I have one tied on all year now.”

Angler’s Choice 4.0 Cross Hair

Ned Kehde

Since 2011, one of the focuses of our Midwest Finesse columns has been to publish gear guides about all of the soft-plastic finesse baits that Midwest finesse anglers can affix to a small mushroom-style jig with an exposed hook.

Angler’s Choice of Wallaceburg, Ontario, Canada, manufactures several soft-plastic finesse baits that Midwest finesse anglers can employ. One of them is the 4.0 Cross Hair.

To facilitate our endeavors, Dave McCready, who is the proprietor of Angler’s Choice, sent us several samples of the Cross Hair for us to work with, examine, and meticulously describe.

Our measurements revealed that it is 4 1/16 inches long.

The peristomium or mouth of the Cross Hair’s head is flat. The head is a quarter of an inch wide with a height of three-sixteenths of an inch, and its dorsal area and sides are dome shaped. Its ventral area is flat.

The end of the Cross Hair’s anterior section and the beginning of its posterior section are not demarcated with a clitellum. But the dimension of the posterior section, which begins about an inch from its peristomium or mouth, decreases gradually as it approaches the junction with its kite-shaped tail.

Near the anterior section’s junction with the head, Cross Hair’s torso is five-sixteenths of an inch wide with a circumference of about seven-eighths of an inch. Its sides and dorsal areas are dome shaped, and its ventral area is flat.

At the junction of the anterior and posterior sections, the torso is five-sixteenths of an inch wide with a circumference of about seven-eighths of an inch.

Two inches from the peristomium or mouth, the posterior section is three-sixteenths of an inch wide with a circumference of about three-quarters of an inch.

Near the junction of the posterior section and the kite-shaped tail, the torso possesses a width of one-eighth of an inch and a circumference of about five-eighths of an inch.

The sides and dorsal areas of the posterior section are dome shaped. Its ventral area is flat.

The tail is flat and three-quarters of an inch long with a thickness of less than one-sixteenth of an inch. Much of the tail’s dorsal area is flat, but it has a ridge or a fin, which runs from the tail’s tip to the junction with the torso, and this ridge or fin divides the length of the dorsal area in half. This ridge or fin is about three-quarters of an inch long, and it is slightly more than one-sixteenths of an inch high at its peak. The ventral area of this kite-shaped tail is flatter than its dorsal area. According to McCready, the tail’s ridge or fin act as a rudder, and it was designed “to give [the Cross Hair] a little more rigidity and help it track correctly in a drift or current.”

It is manufactured in these hues: Casper, Chartreuse Glimmer, Green Pumpkin, MG Purple Neon, MG Special, Morning Bomb, Morning Dawn, River Rat, Smoke Purple Silver Holo, Smoke Purple Silver Holo Irid Blue, and Watermelon Purple Neon.

Except for the words Angler’s Choice which are delicately embossed on the ventral area of the anterior section, the Cross Hair’s epidermis is smooth.

It is impregnated with salt and scent, and it is neutrally buoyant.

At the top is a Cross Hair affixed to a blue 1/32-ounce mushroom-style jig. At the bottom is a Cross Hair affixed to a blue 1/16-ounce mushroom-style jig.

McCready notes that the Cross Hair is Angler’s Choice’s “answer to the skinny drop shot worm.” A drop-shot rig, however, is a method that Midwest finesse anglers rarely employ. But when the Cross Hair is affixed to either a 1/32- or a 1/16-ounce mushroom-style jig with an exposed hook, it should be an effective tool for inveigling largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and spotted bass that abide in shallow-water locales. Its neutral buoyancy and flat ventral areas are features that Midwest finesse anglers have traditionally lauded. And when Midwest finesse anglers are wielding a Cross Hair, they will employ it with all six of the standard Midwest finesse presentations or slight variations of those retrieves.

A package of 12 costs $5.99.

5 Fish Lures Ultimate Ned Jig Review

By Jason Sealock

I will admit that I’m late to the Ned Rig party. Largely due to the fact that I never “had” to fish one up until a few years ago. And most of the time I still don’t. But I’d be lying if I said fishing on Kentucky Lake did not get tough at times this year and the only thing I could consistently catch fish during some of those times was a Ned Rig. So I’ve been experimenting with different heads for fishing specific scenarios with Ned rig fishing.

One of the more challenging scenarios for a Ned rig is fishing around boat docks. An exposed hook on a little spiraling hunk of plastic can get your lure hung a lot. But while I was testing the Zoom Beatdown earlier this year, I rigged it up on a jighead my friend Pete Wenners sent me from his new lure company 5 Fish Lures.


The 5 Fish Lures Ultimate Ned Jig features an angled head design, bulbed collar keeper, but most importantly it has a thin wire weedguard to keep the hook off a majority of snags when fishing around docks and other sparse cover.

The Ultimate Ned Jig comes in 3 sizes—1/8 ounce, 3/16 and 1/4 ounce. It’s powder coated with a durable dimpled head that holds up extremely well fishing it on rocky banks. The Mustad 60-degree crosseye hook is sharp and strong and easily hooks bass on a reel set. The tapered nose reduces snags in brush and rock, and the flat base allows your Ned plastics to stands up on bottom.

(2 of 6)GLUE OR NOT

Originally, I put a drop of Super Glue on the collar of a Ned head, so I could fish one bait a lot longer with less hassle. But surprisingly the bulbous collar holds small ned plastics on the Ultimate Ned Jig extremely well even without the glue. You can sling it under docks, drag it on rocks and catch lots of fish on a single bait without having to rethread your plastic constantly.


This head gives your Ned rig plastic a gliding fall, that apparently looks very natural to the bass. My biggest fish this summer came on a Ned rig fished around docks. Funny part was I had been fishing glide baits that afternoon and had turned two nice fish but didn’t keep either fish hooked up. Nature of the beast sometimes.

But as I fished down a long row of docks with the glide without a bite, I got to the end and noticed a ton of small shad clouded around the last post. I saw the water boil, so I reached down and picked up a Zoom Beatdown in Electric Shad on a 1/8-ounce Ultimate Ned Head. I pitched this Ned rig into the cloud, and as it was gliding to the bottom, my line snapped up off the water.

I reeled down and leaned into the fish and knew it was a good one. It ran drag out away from the dock and made a few big jumps before I landed it on 8-pound line. The fish ended up going 5-14 on my Rapala High Contrast Digital Scale.

That fish made me rethink my previous notions about only catching tiny fish on Ned Rigs.


I’ve stocked up on a few heads I like for Ned rig fishing at this point. And the 5 Fish Lures Ultimate Ned Jig is one of my staples now. I like the 1/8-ounce size for fishing for bass near the surface like suspending under bait, schooling, and on shallow flat banks. I like the 3/16-ounce size for fishing more 45-degree banks and with lifts and drops. I like the 1/4-ounce size for fishing out deep on ledges, humps and channel swing banks.

I’ve fished the Ultimate Ned Jig in Kentucky, Arkansas and Missouri this summer, and it gets bit in a wide variety of situations. Instead of drop shotting like I normally do in July on Table Rock Lake, I instead dropped a 1/4-ounce Ultimate Ned Jig with Missile Ned Bomb to fish I was seeing on my graph suspended in the tops of trees and around floating dock cables in 30-40 feet of water. It was a very efficient way to catch bass and a great change of pace from how I had been fishing Ned Rigs.

Micah Frazier did a similar thing to win the St. Lawrence River Elite Series event this season where everyone else was dropshotting.

I fished the Ultimate Ned Jig on a shallow lake in Arkansas where the bass feed on a lot of small minnows, and I caught a bunch of bass there just straight reeling and popping a 3/16-ounce Ultimate Ned Jig with a Z-Man TRD MinnowZ on fish that were aggressively chasing small baitfish.

Here on Kentucky Lake, I’ve fished the Zoom Beatdown around docks, on points, on ledges and just going down the bank fishing with the 1/8 or 3/16-ounce Ultimate Ned Jig depending on how deep the fish were.



The 5 Fish Lures Ultimate Ned Jig has been hard to get if you don’t live around Table Rock Lake where the head originated, but as of last week they are now being carried online at Walmart.com. You can pick them up there in all three sizes, and they will likely be available online at other retailers soon. They come 8 heads to a pack for $9.49.

I know when I did the original Zoom Beatdown review, I had as many questions about this jighead as I did about the the plastic I was reviewing. So hopefully anglers can purchase them whenever they like online at Walmart.com