Just looking for a meal, Tyler Rivet served up so much more.
In an unlikely win under unlikely circumstances, Rivet bent and flexed to a season-opening title in the SiteOne Bassmaster Elite at Lake Okeechobee.
How the 28-year-old from Raceland, La., came about his pattern is unheard of. There’s been other fortunate fish finds in B.A.S.S. tournament lore, but no one can recall an angler discovering the winning fish while casting for dinner.
“I haven’t heard anybody say something like that, somebody going to catch sac-a-lait and winning off that spot,” Rivet said.
Yeah. Winner, winner, crappie dinner!
Sac-a-lait is Cajun French for crappie, also called white perch in north Louisiana but earning state fish status in The Sportsman’s Paradise. South Florida is privy – Okeechobee City lays claim as Speckled Perch Capital of the World. Whatever you call them, their sweet meat is good eating.
They were sure sweet for Rivet, the cook among his road crew that includes two-time Classic champ Hank Cherry, Brock Mosley and Brad Whatley. Informing them his successful dinner dash up the Kissimmee River included a couple unexpected bruiser bass, they encouraged him to explore some more.
Rivet’s tournament plan had been to fish among the crowds in the several hotspots on Lake Okeechobee. It altered to hopefully catching a few up the river before trying to elbow into the spawning areas for kickers, but he ended up never leaving the Kissimmee.
“Nobody else was doing what I was doing, and that’s the key to winning an Elite tournament — finding that one little thing off the wall,” Rivet said. “I thought this one would be won out in the lake … But when I found my spot in the river, I thought, ‘This could be something.’ But I didn’t know until that first day, and I was like ‘We could win.’”
Rivet stood third with 24-5 on Day 1, and then he averaged nearly 6 pounds a fish in weighing 29-2. With 53-7, Rivet was in second place and on pace for the Century Club.
Things got tougher on Day 3 with only 14-11, but Rivet had a great shot being only 2 pounds out of the lead. His roomies talked him up, reinstalling confidence in his area as he headed into Championship Sunday, when his previous bests were a pair of sixth-place finishes.
“Brad was saying, ‘Dude, guarantee you’re going to win. That lake is going to be tough tomorrow. It’s been beaten up all week. Nobody has been beating up on your fish. It’s up to you. If you just catch them, you’ll win,’” he said.
With the day’s best bag of 18-13, Rivet totaled 86-15 to win by almost 4 pounds. In his fifth Elite season, the workout king finally got to flex on the field. While the win was satisfying, the after party was an abrupt cooldown because practice for the second Elite on Lake Seminole began the next morning.
“It was really no celebration. That’s what stunk about the back-to-back,” Rivet said. “They (road mates) all stayed for the weigh-in, then everybody just left because we had that six-hour drive. I didn’t really get to do anything myself, just get in the truck and drive all night.”
When contacted last week, Rivet had just landed in Chicago for a bachelor party weekend for his sister’s fiancé. An NHL game was on tap for the Blackhawks’ fans, then Rivet said he might very well catch up on celebrating.
“It’s 30 damn degrees up here,” he said. “We’ll probably stay inside the whole time.”
Rivet surely has some spending cash after the $101,000 win and adding $31,000 for third at Seminole. With those two finishes, Rivet leads the Progressive Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings with 206 points, but he’s far from counting chickens.
“I won’t get ahead of myself — we’ve got seven tournaments left,” he said. “It is a lot of fishing. I just must keep it up and not suck.”
After a victory, an Elite angler’s goal is to qualify for the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Toyota. Rivet fished his first last year, finishing in the middle of the pack. He said he thinks he’ll do much better in his second entry later this month on the Tennessee River out of Knoxville.
“One, I’m confident with the momentum I’ve got going on,” Rivet said, “and two, with the LiveScope, I feel like I can do some damage if there are some a little deeper.”
Going against his shallow water roots, Rivet said he quietly caught most of his fish during last year’s Elite season using LiveScope, which gives live underwater sonar images. Listing punching and frogging as his signature techniques, Rivet said he spent the offseason getting better at utilizing the latest technology.
“I was always a southern Louisiana, beat-the-bank guy, chocolate water his whole life,” he said. “Now, I tell everybody, ‘Blockbuster, they was just one of those companies that didn’t change. You need to get on (LiveScope) or you get left behind.’”
How Rivet improved his electronic skills was mostly by catching sac-a-laits. He said they’re just a smaller version of bass, will follow baits and require an angler to figure out what they’ll eat.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “You can tell what color they want just by throwing it over them. They’ll start lighting up, getting brighter, like they’re turning for it, so you know they’re interested. Or they swim away. Obviously, that’s not a good bait.
“LiveScope just tells you so much, just by looking at a fish’s behavior and how they’re sitting.”
Wanting to get out of the wind during Okeechobee practice, Rivet went up the river for dinner where he caught 30 or so crappie. He saw bigger marks and, figuring they were bass, threw out a jerkbait. In his column, Rivet tells how that first “fluke” 6-pounder turned into “The coolest feeling ever.”
Becoming so proficient at LiveScope, Rivet is teaching others how it can help and that it’s an obvious game-changer, even in his preferred dirty water.
“I know a lot of people hate it, just people who don’t want to accept it. If you don’t get with it, you might get left behind in tournament fishing,” he said. “I decided I needed to learn it more and use it to my advantage, and it’s worked out for me a lot.
“And now I want to keep that momentum going and go win a Classic too. Why not?”
Bon appetit, Tyler.