A house divided at the Classic Expo

Some exhibitors at the 2023 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Toyota Expo bleed red and some of them bleed green.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Some exhibitors at the 2023 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Toyota Expo bleed red and some of them bleed green.

For a select few, it’s not such an easy distinction.

Oklahoma’s Brad Vanderpool, Owner of F5 Custom Rods, falls into that latter camp. On Nov. 4, he will marry one Lisa Livesay, older sister of four-time Bassmaster winner Lee Livesay. Apparently he really wants in with the family, so much so that he was willing to set a date during deer season.

You would think that his loyalties would lie exclusively with his brother-in-law-to-be.

Not so fast.

You see, F5 is growing at such a pace that for the first time this year they were able to add an Elite Series pro to their roster, and they worked out a deal with Louisiana’s Tyler Rivet, who is leading the Angler of the Year race. Like Lee Livesay, he is also competing in this week’s tournament. It is Livesay’s third Classic appearance and Rivet’s second. 

Neither pro has yet challenged for a Classic win, although Livesay was 8th at Guntersville in 2020. That was quite a few casts ago. All of his wins have come since then, as have multiple Century Belts. Rivet broke through with his first win in this year’s season-opener on Okeechobee. Clearly they are both pros on the rise, albeit from places not entirely similar to this section of the Tennessee River.

So if it came down to a two-man fish off, who would Vanderpool cheer for?

It wasn’t a fair question, and he made it clear that he thought so, but then offered up some thoughts.

“I think it would have to be Tyler,” he said. “I believe in his mindset and I really love his family. Not that Lee isn’t family, but he’s already going to get that pat on the back. For a smaller company like ours, it’s a huge deal for us to have a pro like Tyler representing us.”

Were Rivet to win, Livesay would at least have to get a tip of the hat or be credited with an assist with respect to F5’s resulting sales. 

“Lee is a good connection for me,” Vanderpool continued. “It’s not always about the money. But if Tyler were to win I’d probably cry. I nearly cried at Okeechobee and then again at Seminole. So many good things have happened for our company in the past six months. To know that I’m part of making someone else’s dream come true would be incredible.”

Asked at media day who his sister and future brother-in-law would favor in that fish off scenario, Livesay was a bit firmer. “Me,” he said. “I’m blood….and I’ve got the hunting land.”

Then he relented a bit and noted the business realities for F5: “Tyler had a solid year last year and Brad was looking for a guy so it seemed like a natural fit. Then Tyler won to start the year off and now he’s got momentum. I know that once you taste that blood you start rolling.”

While F5 is best-known for their swimbait rods, they’ve recently expanded their line of conventional sticks and much of Rivet’s early success has come with two particular models: A 6’9” medium and a 7’4” medium heavy. 

“They’re both rods that you can use for whatever you like and be successful,” he said. “With that 6’9” I was flipping 6-pounders into the boat on Seminole like it was nothing, and that’s the same rod I use for a jerkbait. And that medium heavy – you can honestly punch with it.”

He will have a signature series of F5 rods coming out later this year. Livesay also has his own rods coming out from his sponsor, Halo, “designed around what I like to do.”

The natural inclination is to say “Let the best rod win” this week, but there’s one family that has divided loyalties, with no angst or hard feelings in the mix. 

“This is the one that I want,” Livesay said of the Classic trophy. “Not that I’m done trying to win Elites, but I’m greedy. I want to win everything, but at the same time if it was easy, it probably wouldn’t be as fun.”