Stephen Browning has been around professional fishing for nearly 15 years. He has survived many of the incarnations of BASS' top-level tour and has earned nearly $750,000 in the process. He cut his teeth on the storied Arkansas River and is always a threat on moving water. Here's how the affable Arkie answered our 20 Questions:
1. Where are you from, originally?
I'm from Pine Bluff, Ark.
2. How did you get started in bass fishing?
The Bassmaster Invitationals came to Pine Bluff in 1995, and I fished that event on the Arkansas River. I thought if I was ever going to do it, why not start right there in my backyard?
3. Who were some of your earliest fishing heroes?
Some of my early favorites were the guys from Arkansas, like Larry Nixon and George Cochran. One of my all-time favorites was Denny Brauer. I read a lot about him. He was a shallow water guy, like me. He was definitely high on the list.
4. When did you realize you had made it in the bass fishing industry?
Probably after the 1996 Red Man All American that I won in Pine Bluff. I guess I felt like I had the financial backing from the win and a good, successful first year on the Bassmaster Invitationals. I felt like I could do it.
5. What's the biggest bass you've ever caught?
12-5. I caught it in Lake Monticello in Arkansas. The biggest fish I've ever weighed in a tournament was an 8-13 that I caught on Lake Okeechobee. It was the tournament that Terry Scroggins won in 2003.
6. What do you love most about bass fishing?
I think I like the challenge that each lake presents. It's seems like when I'm at a body of water for six or seven days, I enjoy trying to stay on top of the changing conditions.
7. What is your greatest strength as a bass angler?
Definitely shallow-water fishing. That can be flipping, cranking, spinnerbaits or anything that's in shallow water. That's where I feel at home.
8. What is your greatest weakness as a bass angler?
Well, I only have three drop shot weights in the boat, so that would have to be it.
9. Where is your favorite place to fish for bass and why?
If I had to pick a place, I would probably say Sam Rayburn. I just like the place. It's a lot like our lakes around Arkansas, and I just feel real comfortable at Rayburn no matter the time of year.
10. What question do you get asked most by fans and how do you answer it?
Probably one of the biggest things is how to get started. I really encourage them to begin at a low entry fee level and work their way through the ranks in the local areas, then branch out into the regional areas, then possibly higher. That's how I did it.
11. What's the biggest mistake you see from casual anglers?
I think a lot of anglers fish too fast. There is a lot of pressure on our lakes, and I feel like a lot of guys are fishing over a lot of bites by fishing too fast.
12. Do you have any fishing superstitions?
I have one pair of underwear that I break out when I really need to catch 'em. It seems to work, so I always carry them. Sometimes I have to use them, sometimes I don't. They're probably 5 or 6 years old, and they're dark blue and have buck horns on 'em, I guess to remind me to buck up!
If I'm not in the money but I'm close, or if I'm doing well and have potential to have a better-than-average tournament, like a Top 20 or something, then I break 'em out.
13. How big a part does luck play in fishing?
I've always said that luck is where opportunity meets success. Guys who put themselves in a place to have luck do best. For example, when you've got to drag a 6-pounder over a log and it doesn't come off, that's luck. But the next guy might have it come off. That's bad luck.
14. What has been your greatest accomplishment in the fishing industry?
I would have to say the longevity of my career, so far. I've seen a lot of people come and go, so to have done it for 14 years full-time without having another occupation is probably a pretty good accomplishment. I think most of my success is due to my working relationship with sponsors and fans.
I know that not every day can be the greatest, but my main goal is to wear a smile across that stage. I'm a happy-go-lucky type of guy, and I think that's played a big role in my longevity.
15. What goals have you yet to accomplish in your bass fishing career?
I really want to win the Bassmaster Classic. I know what it has done for a lot of anglers, especially the ones around here in Arkansas. We've had a lot of past Classic champions, but we haven't had one in a long time. My main goal in this game is to win the Classic.
16. What keeps you motivated to reach those goals?
The competition level that I face every day on the water is a real motivator. We have a tremendous amount of good young guys as well as veterans such as me. I try to be better each and every day. I know I have to be better if I'm going to reach the ultimate goal of a Classic win.
17. What's the biggest challenge you've faced in your career?
Probably not winning more. There is so much pressure on everybody to win. But, the thing that a lot of folks don't understand is that we don't have a whole lot of chances to win.
I can't go and compete in a tournament every week, like an NFL player has a chance every week for 16 weeks, or a baseball player who has a lot more. It's hard to win one of these things.
18. When you're not bass fishing, how do you like to spend your time?
Well, I like to spend time with my son playing golf and hunting. I like to be with him and my wife when I'm not fishing. When you're gone, you miss 'em, and when you come home, it's a great feeling.
19. What profession (other than your own) would you like to have tried?
You know, I went to school and majored in fishery and wildlife management, so probably a fisheries biologist. I have a real passion for largemouth bass. If I had to choose another career, that probably would have been the direction that I would've gone toward.
20. When it's all over, how do you want people to remember you?
I guess I want 'em to remember the smile on my face. I've always tried to keep a smile on my face whether I'm doing well or not. You can't be anything but happy to be able to do this for a living.