JASPER, Ala. — Luck often plays a big role in co-angler tournament success. Fishing used water, from the back of the boat, limits the ability to apply skills necessary to finish on top.
That is true in theory but not in the case of Chad Smith. The 22-year-old co-angler from Minnetonka, Minn., is on a roll in this season of the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Open series.
Smith owns a recent streak of five Championship Saturdays over six events. That run includes three straight Top 12 finishes, the most recent of which happened this month at Douglas Lake.
Read on to validate why Smith is not just on a run of good luck.
Smith skipped his high school graduation ceremony to fish the first Open in 2013. A poor finish on the James River motivated him even more.
“To just be part of it all really turned me on about what all I could learn if I could get back,” he said.
Note the key word is about learning. Smith never set out to blaze a trail and skyrocket to the top of the co-angler standings. That happened over three years of keenly observing his pro partners. Practice time helps too, and Smith has a very qualified mentor in fellow Minnesotan Josh Douglas.
“I’ve been super fortunate to spend time learning new water with Josh,” said Smith. “He’s helped me get acclimated to different types of water, and by tournament time I’m better informed and equipped to do my best.”
Smith shares a campsite with Josh and Bri Douglas. They stay in a Lance Camper, Smith bunks in the back of his pickup truck. Douglas guides on lakes Minnetonka and Mille Lacs when not on the tournament trail or seminar circuit. Smith works a landscaping and property maintenance job. The two have been friends for about five years.
Smith graduated from high school and enrolled at Winona State University, where he also became president of the bass fishing team in 2014. There was little time for fishing due to Smith’s chosen major as a pre-med student.
He worked hard, long hours to save up for the 2015 season. That year he fished as a co-angler in the Northern and Central Opens. The next year finances and time only allowed him to fish the Northern series. At the final event of the season he finished fourth at Lake Champlain. That would be a sign of good things to come.
Smith kicked off 2017 with a tenth-place finish at the Southern Open last January at the Harris Chain of Lakes in Florida. Then came the consecutive Top 12s at the James River, his former nemesis, and finally at Douglas Lake. He hopes to make it a fourth straight Championship Saturday this week at Smith Lake. This is his final tournament of the season after fishing the full slate of events in the Northern and Southern Open series.
Smith’s formula for consistent success begins in practice with Douglas. After getting acclimated he pares down lure selections using a twofold approach. First, he keeps at the ready a small selection of lures fitting the prevailing patterns of the week. Next, and most importantly, he adds pure confidence baits.
“Instead of constantly switching up and trying to duplicate what the pro is doing I only throw baits that I have the confidence in using,” he explained. “Mental confidence in the go-to baits is what I rely on for every tournament.”
The tacklebox is small by comparison to what’s inside the bags of fellow co-anglers. What lacks in lure choices is filled with the positive attitude supplied by reliable baits.
Smith begins the tournament the same every time. With confidence, the small selection of go-to lures and a readiness to learn.
“I expect to learn something new every single day,” he continued. “Everyone has something to teach you if you pay attention.”
Smith’s capacity for knowledge is fueled by his eagerness to learn.
“The knowledge I gain fishing with different anglers allows me to observe their styles, and everybody has a different approach, something unique, if you take the time to learn from them.”
That all said, Smith applies what he learns in his own adaptive style of fishing. How he does that is recognizing that his pro partner fishes a small fraction of a given area. That leaves him a majority of the unused water. He never fishes the used water where a cast was just made by his pro partner.
“Your goal as a co-angler is to catch the fish they miss,” he said. “They are going to a given area because they caught fish there in practice or the tournament, so it’s a matter of finding specific casting targets they miss.”
“The pro has a lot on the line, and I don’t want to mess up anything they are doing,” he continued.
Simply put, Smith finds his pattern within a pattern at each stop of the day. He purposely avoids being second guessed by how the pro is catching fish.
“As a co-angler you are at the discretion of the pro, so you control your own fate,” he added.
Brimming with confidence the future looks bright for Smith. Does he plan to make a tournament career out of being a co-angler? No way. Not surprisingly, there is a strategy.
“This year has been awesome because I’ve been able to save up my winnings,” he said. “I’m putting the money into what I call a ‘pro fund’ for the future.”
The future calls for more of the same with the 2018 season. He plans to compete as a co-angler in the East division and then make the move to the pro side in 2019.
“I realize it’s a whole different deal, from decisions to finances, and I want to be prepared,” he admitted.
By then, Smith will be well prepared all around to continue his success from the front of the boat.