Longobardi climbs the Opens ladder

When Connecticut angler Stephen Longobardi weighs his fish at a Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens presented by Allstate tournament, it’s hard to miss his grandparents, Richard and Jennifer Latkowski.

“They’re usually the wildest ones in the crowd,” Longobardi said. “They scream and holler when my name is called.”

The Latkowskis live in the Florida panhandle and travel to the Southern Opens to support their grandson. It was during summertime visits to the Latkowski’s home in Florida that Longobardi was introduced to the world of fishing.

Grandpa Latkowski would take Longobardi fishing at nearby ponds. When Longobardi was still a tad, his father, also a Stephen, fished the Everglades with his brother-in-law Rick Latkowski. They slammed the bass and had a 100-fish day. That got Longobardi’s father hooked on fishing.

“Uncle Rick is a hell of an outdoorsman and one of the main reasons I started fishing,” Longobardi said.

In the year 2000, when Longobardi was 13, he and his father began fishing team tournaments in Connecticut. They competed together for the next 12 years.

The majority of those events were with the Northeast Bass Association. Candlewood Lake, which is listed at No. 34 on Bassmaster’s Top 100 bass lakes of 2014, was a frequent tournament site.

Candlewood produces quality largemouth and smallmouth bass. But at only 5,420 acres, fishing is congested there. Connecticut doesn’t have large lakes and reservoirs comparable to those that the Bassmaster Opens visits.

“The lakes here are not big enough to run a pattern,” Longobardi said. “You end up battling yourself not to fish history. It’s like trying to get out of quicksand.”

The Bassmaster Opens give Longobardi more breathing room. He relishes the challenge of fishing new water where history doesn’t drag him down.

“I don’t overthink things when I’m at an Open tournament,” Longobardi said. “I fish more in the moment.”

Stephen LongobardiThose first moments happened in 2012 when Longobardi made a leap of faith to fish the Bassmaster Southern Opens. During his second year of fishing the Southern Opens in 2013 he nabbed his best finish — 13th place at Douglas Lake.

This year Longobardi is fishing the Southern and Northern Opens. He claimed 25th place at the first Southern Open at Florida’s Lake Tohopekaliga last January and 38th place in March at the Southern Open at Alabama’s Smith Lake.

His father bested him at Smith Lake, snatching second place in the Co-Angler division. That evening they celebrated dad’s great showing and Longobardi’s 13th place standing in the points race. With a strong finish at the final 2014 Southern Open at North Carolina’s Lake Norman in October, Longobardi could qualify for the Bassmaster Elite Series.

With six months between the tournaments at Smith and Norman, Longobardi is thankful that he signed on to fish the Northern Opens. They take his mind off the Norman event and give him three more shots to win and qualify for the Bassmaster Classic.

“Fishing the Northerns lowers my stress level,” Longobardi said. “I don’t have to grit my teeth until October.”

When he’s not fishing a tournament, Longobardi works for his father in building maintenance.

“I’m a very fortunate individual to work for my dad,” Longobardi said. “It’s the only way I can get the time off to go to the Bassmaster Opens.”

Longobardi is also thankful to have the support of his mother, Cindy.

Power fishing is Longobardi’s strong suit. You’ll often find him deep cranking or slow rolling a spinnerbait.

“I love the anticipation and the 0 to 100 adrenaline rush,” Longobardi said. “You’re getting into a rhythm and the rod just loads up. They smash it like they’re angry. It’s the best bite there is.”

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