ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla.— Peter Thliveros (affectionately known as Peter T) may well be one of the top pros in the Bassmaster Elite Series, but he also holds the distinction of being the first Bassmaster Junior member of the St. Johns Bass Anglers club and the first junior member in the state of Florida when he joined the club in 1976.
Joining the Federation Nation was the perfect opportunity for the 16-year-old Thliveros at that time. "It was an opportunity to fish above the club level with the state tournaments," he said. "I had a really good time in it with a lot of camaraderie, and I started meeting other people when I fished Red Man and other tournaments throughout the state and found out they were all in the Federation as well. It was like an extended club."
The young angler got off to an inauspicious start in his first tournament. "I remember borrowing a boat because the boat I had was overpowered," he said. "I don't remember a whole lot about the tournament other than the boat I borrowed from a friend of mine. When I took it back to him, I thought everything was fine. But I was wrong. The screws on the trolling motor were loose and the motor didn't run the same as before. So it was not a very good experience for me."
The chance to fish against other Federation Nation anglers outside of his club helped the teenager grow into an accomplished angler. "At the time, I didn't really realize the experience I was gaining because I was a kid," he recalled. "I never got into the state tournament. At that time, you had to finish in the Top 6 of the state Federation chapter to advance. It did give me an opportunity to be a part of the BASS organization and win a little bit of money and get some recognition."
Thliveros lists fellow club member Jerry Redmond as one of his mentors. "He was a Top 6 qualifier for a couple of years," he said. "Jerry taught me a lot in my early years of freshwater fishing." The Florida pro said he also learned a lot about bass fishing from Bobby Ditto, a perennial Top 6 qualifier from another Florida club.
Turning pro was Thliveros' goal during his early years in the Federation Nation. "As soon as I graduated from high school, I felt that was what I wanted to do," he said.
Thliveros recalls winning his club's Angler of the Year title in 1981, which gave him the opportunity to fish a Bassmaster event. "At that time, one of the options for winning the club's Angler of the Year award was to have the club pay for a national tournament entry fee," he said. So Thliveros opted to enter the 1982 Bassmaster Florida Invitational at Lake Toho where he finished fifth. Encouraged by the high finish, Thliveros entered another Bassmaster event in 1983 and fished the entire Bassmaster circuit in 1984-1985.
Since leaving the Federation Nation ranks, Thliveros has seen the grass-roots organization provide better incentives and more opportunities for anglers of all skill levels to follow their dreams. "Back then some guys got into it to get an opportunity to fish and get away, but nowadays guys are a lot more serious about it because the stakes are a lot higher," he said. "There are more opportunities for an angler who may not be able to participate in the Opens level or the Elite Series level but is still as capable an angler as some of the veteran pros that are in the upper levels."
Although his club is no longer in the Federation Nation, Thliveros still returns to his roots by speaking at Federation Nation meetings whenever he has the chance. "If someone calls and asks for a speaker, then I'll do it," he said.
When he was a young angler in the Federation, Thliveros heard a lot of storytelling from the veterans in his club.
Now he gets a chance to tell a few tales to the next generation of Federation Nation anglers.