Known as the Carolina rig guru, Peter "T" Thliveros has carved out his own piece of BASS history. He's pushing the $2 million mark in career earnings, has seven BASS wins and has qualified for 13 Classics. Let's see how this BASS millionaire stacks up against our 20 questions.
1. Where are you from, originally?
2. How did you get started in bass fishing?
I started as a junior member of the St. John's Bass Club in 1974. They were one of the first Federation Nation affiliated clubs in Florida, and they amended their bylaws so I could become a junior member. I started fishing by walking the banks of the St. John's. My dad would drop me off at the river after school, and I'd ditch my books and grab a rod and go fish. There were two guys from the club that got me into fishing tournaments. One I met at my church and the other came to my dad's restaurant all the time. He'd bring his boat and show me all his gear and the bass in the cooler, and he even gave me some baits. He was the one who started showing me how to fish and is responsible for getting me into tournament fishing. His name is Jerry Redmond. He's 81 years old, and he's still my mentor. He also still goes out by himself a lot.
3. Who were some of your earliest fishing heroes?
Oh, probably the same as everyone else who grew up in the '70s — Bill Dance, Roland Martin, Larry Nixon, Tommy Martin. The really cool thing is that today I know these guys and consider them friends.
4. When did you realize you had made it in the bass fishing industry?
I'd have to say after my first win at the St. John's River. I can't remember the exact year, I think 1991 or 1992. That was back when I was broke and about to give up tournament fishing. I told this to my wife and family, but they convinced me to fish just one more tournament, and that was at Lake Murray in South Carolina where I came in third. I decided I'd keep going a little longer after that. The next event was at the St. John's, and that win kept my career alive.
5. What's the biggest bass you've ever caught?
Eleven pounds, 2 ounces. I caught it a few years ago on Lake Cypress on the Kissimmee Chain during practice.
6. What do you love most about bass fishing?
I love the constant challenge. Things are always changing, and you have to keep up with the fish, be versatile and get better everyday. If you went out there, knew exactly what to throw where every single day, it'd get pretty boring.
7. What is your greatest strength as a bass angler?
Soft plastics. No question there. I'd say my strong suit is using them anywhere from 3 to 10 feet of water.
8. What is your greatest weakness as a bass angler?
I'd have to say spinnerbaits and jerkbaits. Physically, as I've gotten older, I don't have the endurance to throw those things all day. I've got shoulder and wrist problems that need surgery, and I can't pick those baits up and maintain the pace needed to use them effectively. If that's all they're biting, I'll go ahead and use them, but only to fill in the gaps between the fish I get on worms.
9. Where is your favorite place to fish for bass and why?
Lake Champlain. The fact that you can catch such good numbers of both quality smallmouth and largemouth is testament to what a great fishery that lake is.
10. What question do you get asked most by fans and how do you answer it?
That depends on where I'm at, but the one that comes to mind is, "Where are you going to be next?" Other questions are about the Carolina rig and the Petey rig. The one thing I haven't gotten asked yet — and this is a good thing — is "How much longer are you going to do this?"
11. What's the biggest mistake you see from casual anglers?
A thing that a lot of guys ignore is the basics. That could be knowing the right knots to use or when to use the appropriate line or rod action. You can't make everything work with just one or two rods. Nowadays fishing is like golf, you don't play the round with just one or two clubs, you use a lot of different ones. You need to match your equipment to the technique, bait and place you're fishing.
12. Do you have any fishing superstitions?
Not really, but there is one thing I'll do before each day of each tournament. I think it's bad luck to catch a fish on the first cast, so I'll take my bait and throw it out somewhere into dead water — or at least water I think is dead. It has backfired on me before. I just can't bring myself to throw out a 3-pounder, even if it is unlucky.
13. How big a part does luck play in fishing?
I think there's luck involved in everything we do. Some guys say they'd rather be lucky than good for a reason, sometimes it's the last piece of the puzzle that will put you over the top. The skill comes in when you know how to find fish and know what to give them, and when you do and you're catching 3-pounders and a six comes along, that is luck. You don't hear of guys going out and fishing for 6- and 7-pounders a lot ... unless we're at Amistad.
14. What has been your greatest accomplishment in the fishing industry?
I think my first big accomplishment was when I broke the $1 million mark in earnings. That was pretty cool. Secondly, winning two majors was pretty big. They went a long way in helping me get to $1 million.
15. What goals have you yet to accomplish in your bass fishing career?
Well, like most guys who haven't already done so, I'd like to win a Classic and a Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year title. I think for me, the Classic win is more realistic because at this point in my career, I don't think I can keep up with the pace of the new guys. Five or 10 years ago I think I had a better shot at Angler of the Year, but not so much any more. At this level, fishing is a lot more physical than most people realize. I'm not saying it's impossible. I'd give myself about a 50/50 chance, but my odds are decreasing.
16. What keeps you motivated to reach those goals?
The competition. I love it. I'm not out there trying to beat the other guys, I'm out there trying to beat the real enemy — the fish. Nothing is going to happen if you try to outsmart the other guys. There are two things you need to beat if you're going to be successful — the fish and yourself. You can't really control the fish, but you can beat yourself if you get caught up trying to beat a group of guys. We all have the tools and the ability, but you need the mental ability to make it all come together. You need to fight your weaknesses and become a better fisherman.
17. What has been the greatest regret of your fishing career?
I don't have any real regrets. I think I've done alright, and I'm proud of what I've accomplished. I've been able to do my own thing and fish while supporting my family. There are a few times I wish I would have done something else in a tournament that maybe would've helped me out, but everyone has those.
18. When you're not bass fishing, how do you like to spend your time?
I like to go into my tackle room, work on lures and tinker with them. I'm always trying to make a new and better mousetrap. I also like to saltwater fish. It's my relaxation and distraction.
19. What profession (other than your own) would you like to have tried?
Well, I started in the restaurant business at my dad's place, and that is the reason I was able to fish professionally. He gave me the time off. When I retire from fishing I'm going to have to support myself somehow, and I miss cooking in a restaurant, so I'll probably get back into that. Just last week at Dardanelle, Kelly Jordon had some cobia from a trip he just took, and he asked if I wanted to cook it, and I jumped at the chance. Kelly, me, Kenyon (Hill), Bernie (Schultz), Boyd (Duckett) and Mark (Tucker) all ate it.
20. When it's all over, how do you want people to remember you?
You know, I've thought about that, and I don't really have a good answer. I think I'd have to say that I want to be seen as someone who lived his life, marched to his own drum, and didn't piss anyone off. I don't want anyone to say I was a bad guy.