Michael Lavellee is following a deliberately planned route to reach his goal of reaching the Bassmaster Elite Series. He’s not yet made it but the prize is near reach.
Following a similar path was another angler who is a source of inspiration for Lavallee on how to enter that very narrow door into the pinnacle of the sport.
Lavallee is competing in his third season of the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens. Twice the Utah angler has already narrowly missed qualifying for the Elite Series. With each near miss has come renewed confidence the next season might be the year.
“What a lot of anglers miss is that mathematically all it takes is one lost four-pounder, a dead fish penalty, to miss the Elite Series cut,” he explained. “I discovered that by doing the math.”
Lavallee uses that math to set realistic, attainable goals. He strives to finish inside the top 20 of the Opens points to be in contention for a berth in the Elite Series.
In the meantime, Lavellee does whatever it takes to get there. Sleeping in his truck in route over a 22-hour drive from Florida to Utah. Pinching the pennies to make the ends meet on the road. Enduring sunup to sundown practice sessions. Grinding it out with every task.
“If Brandon Palaniuk did it then I can too,” said Lavallee, 33, of Sandy, Utah.
Palaniuk is the reigning Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year. Palaniuk did all of the above to punch his ticket to the Elite Series. His AOY championship quest began at the very same grass roots level as Lavallee.
Palaniuk and Lavallee came up through the ranks of the B.A.S.S. Nation. Lavallee, a member of the Top of Utah Bassmasters, still competes at the club level. The B.A.S.S. Nation even offers an opportunity to join the Elite Series through contingency programs available to its top anglers.
Lavallee joined Top of Utah Bassmasters at the age of 16. He began fishing as a boater and never left the front deck. Twice he’s competed in the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship, the premier global event for bass clubs. His most recent appearance was last year at Lake Hartwell in South Carolina.
Joining a Federation Nation club was an ideal entry point for a teenager with high aspirations.
“The camaraderie and the sharing of information at the local level helped me gain the experience needed to take my game to the next level,” he said.
“That’s what is neat about the Federation Nation,” he continued. “You can go as far as you want beginning at the club level.”
Lavallee did just that, taking his game to the next level at western tournaments. Overall on his resume are 40 pro-level events, including over a dozen appearances in the U.S. Open, a highly regarded and long-time event held annually on Lake Mead, Nevada.
Lavallee shifted his competitive focus to the Opens three years ago. The reason why is obvious.
“I am here to make a full time career from the Elite Series,” he explained. “I eat, live and breath bass fishing and want to channel it all into punching that ticket.”
A flexible career as an electrician and mortgage broker enable him to travel as needed to the tournaments. For the past decade tournament winnings have become a consistent source of income.
There have been bumps along the way.
“What’s different about the Opens than any other pro circuit is that being on top of your game is a must every competition day,” he said. “I say that with a great deal of respect.”
“It’s a higher level of tournament, because of the skills of the anglers, and you have Elite Series anglers there too,” he added.
That makes nearing the goal even more rewarding.
“I believe that I have the skills in order to compete at the highest level,” he said. “I just need my luck to change, get a break and that is all that it will take.”
Until then Lavallee will continue following the path of Palaniuk. There will be long drives. Late nights spent sleeping in the truck. Pitching pennies. Someday, he believes, it will have been worth the effort.