Being a Division I college football kicker can be a thankless job, but former University of Central Arkansas kicker Garrett Morgan learned how to be mentally strong in the face of adversity.
That mental toughness has helped Morgan navigate the first two tournaments of the Yamaha Rightwaters Bassmaster Kayak Series powered by TourneyX and lead the Old Town Angler of the Year race after two tournaments with 484 points.
He leads second place Justin Largin of Roanoke, Va., by one point and holds an 11-point lead over third-place angler Larry Edwards who has 473 points.
In the first event of the season at Lake Fork, the Arkansas native and Old Town team member claimed his first ever national level victory with 201.75 inches over two days, a tournament that featured a lowered Lake Fork and frigid temperatures.
“My goal coming into this year was to win a national level event and to come out to the first event that I signed up for and check that box was huge,” he said. “It made it more special that it was on Lake Fork. It gave me a boost to know I can come out here and compete with those elite anglers. I have always felt like I could.”
Lake Fork has become Morgan’s favorite fishery, and he did something different compared to a lot of other anglers to seal his first victory.
“I didn’t see a lot of people focusing on a jig bite and didn’t see a lot of people fishing the 6- to 7-foot range,” he said. “And I didn’t see a lot of people on the main lake, and a lot of the fish I caught the first day were on the main lake.”
From there Morgan decided to fish the rest of the Kayak Series schedule and placed 17th at the Harris Chain of Lakes. He flew to Orlando with only a couple reels and a bag of tackle, borrowing rods and a kayak from teammates Jimmy McClurkan.
“I flew in on the Friday before the tournament, and I didn’t get to the lake until 4 a.m. My flight got delayed, and I had to wait in line for a rental car,” Morgan said. “I asked Jimmy to bring me three rods, and I just showed up. I fished the moment and fished the conditions, and I was lucky enough that it worked out and got a limit.”
While he had never been to the Harris Chain before this event, Morgan had spent time fishing the Kissimmee Chain and other Central Florida fisheries on various trips and spring breaks, giving him an idea of what to look for and what the bass do in the postspawn.
“I felt pretty confident, even though I hadn’t been on the lake. In the past, I have hopped off a plane, got in a bass boat back then and went and caught fish that were postspawn. Maybe I was hardheaded and didn’t really know any better, but I felt like I can go out there and do this. And I was able to make it happen.”
Morgan is no stranger to competing for Angler of the Years, having won four-straight seasons at the local level with Natural State Kayak Anglers.
“I stepped away from that this year, and I wanted to focus on one trail and see if I could win Angler of the Year,” Morgan said. “I know from winning the local trail, you have to fish all of them. I jumped a lot of hoops to get to Florida, and I didn’t think I would be in the top 20 like I was.”
While he entered with the goal of winning a tournament, that goal has now evolved into winning the Old Town Bassmaster Kayak Series Angler of the Year race.
“When you get that lead early, it’s like, when am I ever going to have a better chance to chase this?” Morgan said. “This is my primary focus for the year. I may never start the year out in first place again, so that is now the goal. Let’s go see if we can win Angler of the Year or have fun trying anyways.”
Morgan is within three hours of Grand Lake, the site of the next Kayak Series event and will be able to prefish the next few weeks. The final two lakes on the schedule, Smith Lake and Pickwick Lake, are places Morgan has never been to.
“From what I hear, Pickwick can fish to my strengths,” he said. “I’m pretty good at shallow water fishing. I don’t know a lot about Smith Lake, but I’ve been to some Alabama lakes and done well. I feel like I have some things to learn for sure.”
Morgan added that he wouldn’t be in the catbird seat without the help of his Old Town teammates. While McClurkan helped him in Florida, Roy Grubb provided Morgan a kayak at Lake Fork after mechanical issues left Morgan’s unusable.
“In two events I have had to rely on teammates to help me with something, and that has been huge in my success,” he said. “I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in without them.”