Born to bass fish

When Andrew Upshaw turned 16 years old, his father offered to buy him an automobile. Upshaw turned it down. What kind of high school kid forfeits the chance for his first set of wheels?

“I want a boat,” Upshaw told his dad. “I can get back and forth to school with you and mom.”

And that’s the way it went. The boat investment looks wise now, with Upshaw becoming the first-ever Mercury College B.A.S.S. angler to earn a Bassmaster Classic berth. And it indicates just how dedicated an angler Upshaw has been for the eight years since then.

Larry Upshaw coached high school football in Texas for 27 years. Some of his players went on to play in the NFL. He’s officially coached another pro in another sport now, as Andrew prepares for the biggest event in bass fishing.

Upshaw’s last stop in his coaching career was Hemphill, Texas, where he and his family settled into a home on the banks of Toledo Bend Reservoir. Upshaw started taking Andrew fishing on the lake in a small flatbottom boat.

“One time we saw an alligator that was as big as our boat, so we graduated to a bigger boat,” Larry Upshaw said.

As Andrew became more and more interested in bass fishing, his father found him someone with a greater knowledge of the sport.

“I coached both of Tommy Martin’s boys at Hemphill,” Larry said. “Tommy became a mentor to Andrew. One time Andrew was pestering Tommy about different places to catch fish on Toledo Bend. Tommy said, ‘Andrew I’ll tell you anything you want to know about fishing here, but the best advice I can give you is to get your little butt out on the lake and find them yourself.’

“I’ll never forget that. It was the best advice he ever got.”

Martin won the fourth Bassmaster Classic in 1974. He is considered among the pioneers of the sport. Now he has passed that knowledge down to the next generation of bass anglers.

“My oldest son got a football scholarship to Sam Houston State,” Martin said. “I felt like I owed it to Larry to teach Andrew something about bass fishing. Then, after I’d fished with him a little bit, I just enjoyed being on the water with him.

“You tell him something one time, and he doesn’t forget it. Just watch him. He’s going to be somebody to reckon with. He’s got what it takes to be a pro. I fished with Kevin VanDam when he was young. Andrew reminds me a little bit of Kevin. I think Andrew is awfully good.”

Martin, however, didn’t need to pass down the importance of perseverance to Upshaw.

“One December we had some really cold weather,” Larry Upshaw recalled. “It was too cold for me to get out on the lake. It was 13 degrees, but Andrew still wanted to go. I told him as long as he stayed where I could see him from the house, he could go.

“Andrew sat out there for six hours in that weather. He didn’t get a bite, but it showed his dedication.”

Andrew also showed his dedication to boat driving instead of automobile driving; he didn’t get his driver’s license and a vehicle until he was 18 years old.

Upshaw, now 24, probably has a slugger’s chance in the Bassmaster Classic. He can swing for the fence, and, if he connects, has a chance to hit it out of the park. Upshaw has never been on a stage this big, of course, but he’s familiar with big-time competition, having fished in the Bassmaster Northern Opens last year, where his best finish was 96th at Chesapeake Bay. In addition to Martin, Andrews also has paired with former Elite Series angler Ben Matsubu in local tournaments, so he’s had ample opportunities to pick up tips from the pros.

Most importantly, Upshaw is familiar with Shreveport’s Red River area.

“I love the Red River,” Upshaw said. “I’ve fished three or four tournaments there and done really well. I’ve fished there with Tommy Martin.

“I couldn’t ask for a better place to fish the Bassmaster Classic because I’ve been there so many times.”

There’s at least a chance, however unlikely, that all that time in a boat, instead of an automobile, will pay off again, just like it did in Little Rock on July 10 when Upshaw made Mercury College B.A.S.S. history.

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