MUSKOGEE, Okla. — Ask Stephen and Beau Browning to define themselves as tournament anglers and you get the same answer, even though the father and son are 34 years apart.
“Determined, mentally tough and a hardcore grinder,” said Beau, 16, fishing as a co-angler in the 2018 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Opens. “He always finds a way to come from nowhere and get it done.”
“I’ve turned him into a grinder, to never give up, always put forth 100 percent,” added Stephen, 50, fishing his 23rd season of Bassmaster tournaments.
Last month, Beau watched his father grind it out at Central Open #1 on Ross Barnett Reservoir. Browning came from fifth place, and much farther behind in previous days, to score his fourth B.A.S.S. career win. In 2013 he came from 12th place to win an Open on the Red River, and has come from nowhere many times to claim numerous top 10 finishes in his career.
What earned Stephen the “grinder” reputation are the challenging bass fishing conditions in the clear lakes and stained rivers around the Browning home in Hot Springs, Ark.
“We don’t have tournaments that normally produce a 20-pound-plus kind of day,” he said. “Most are seven, eight bites and it takes all day to get those bass in the livewell.”
Learning the hard way, grinding it out, molded Stephen into the successful angler he is today, and that same in-the-trenches approach is shaping Beau.
Grinding it out at the high school level is turning into an unexpected reward for Stephen, who serves as coach for teammates Beau and Cole Lamb. In 2015 and 2016 Beau won state titles, also qualifing for consecutive Bassmaster High School Series Championships, including this year. At the age of 14, Beau and then teammate McCoy Vereen won the 2014 Bassmaster Junior Championship with Stephen as the coach.
In 2013 the teens scored a dismal double zero that provided motivation for a comeback, revenge win.
“We left something behind and wanted it back,” recalled Beau. “We worked harder to get back there, qualify again, and that made the win even better.
Fishing at that level, against the best junior anglers in the sport, was to us like winning a Bassmaster Classic,” added Beau, now enrolled at Lakeside High School in Hot Springs. “For me it was great motivation for taking my game to the high school level.”
And take it there he did the next year. Beau and Vereen finished sixth in their freshman years at the 2017 Bassmaster High School Championship.
The odds are high for distractions to disrupt a high school teenager’s commitment to a single activity. Not so for Beau.
“He ran her off last week,” quipped Stephen, when the question was posed. The real answer comes with the priorities set by Beau.
“At the first of the year I get out the calendar and fill up as many weekends as possible with tournaments,” added Beau.
This year the calendar is booked with three weekends on average, including high school and adult tournaments. Beau and Lamb take on adults in the Arkansas Bass Team Trail, not at all intimidated by fishing at that level.
Stephen is not at all surprised.
“A lot of kids want their parents running the trolling motor so they can sit in the back, kick back, and go fishing,” he explained. “Beau has always wanted to run the trolling motor and has fished tournaments since the age of 7.”
Keeping his foot on the trolling motor and otherwise focused on the future has served him well beyond his 16 years.
“I know my limits, what to do with confidence, and what not to do on bodies of water where I still need time to learn technique specific tactics,” he explained. “If I’m not comfortable with the prevailing pattern, then I don’t get caught up in trying to master something unfamiliar.”
Instead, he does that by spending hours watching reruns of The Bassmasters and instructional videos on YouTube. The lessons go live with the next fishing trip when Beau applies what he watched on the water to begin mastering the technique.
Beau is ready to move to the front of the boat, his father is not, at least this season.
“I want him to fish from the back, and at the end of the day be able to analyze what his partner did, successfully, or unsuccessfully, and use that as a learning experience,” said Stephen.
Until then, Stephen relishes his own time to sit in the back of the boat.
“I’m just living the moment through them, watching them get dialed in and that’s just the funniest part,” he said. “I can just sit there and almost set the hook for them.”
Believing that success came sooner for Beau due to his upbringing is a fair assumption. What sets him apart, just like it does other sons with famous fathers, is the answer to this question.
What does it take to be competitive?
“Drive and mental focus, discipline, going out every day and putting in 100 percent effort,” said Beau. “And if you get your butt handed to you at the end of the day, then you turn around the next and swing hard again.”
Spoken like a true grinder. Like father, like son.