Somewhere between Orange, Texas, and Lake Havasu City, Ariz., rookie angler Stephen Longobardi believes he abandoned the very principles that helped him qualify for this year’s Bassmaster Elite Series.
He believes that’s why he finished no higher than 89th in any of his first four Elite Series events and why he’s currently ranked 112th, dead-last, in the Angler of the Year standings.
So whatever happens the rest of the way, the 28-year-old Connecticut angler says he’s going back to what made him elite in the first place.
“It’s just been one of those things where I’m overfishing and I’m overthinking, because I’m putting too much pressure on myself,” Longobardi said. “Nobody’s telling me I need to finish here, I need to finish there or I need to cash a check. It’s just that, financially, I know this is the year I need to make it happen.
“To get here, I went out, had fun, caught fish and figured things out. That’s what I have to get back to.”
Longobardi qualified through the Bass Pro Shops Southern Opens after fishing only 13 career tournaments with B.A.S.S. Though some tour veterans advise against tackling the rigors of the Elite Series at such a young age and with so little experience, he never hesitated.
Now he’s dealing with the harsh realities – and even harsher expenses – that go hand in hand with criss-crossing the country for a career in pro fishing.
With a list of sponsors that’s still very much in its infancy, Longobardi is paying his own entry fees – and though all rookies are spotted an exemption to fish a second year regardless of their finish, he doesn’t expect to have the funds for another self-sponsored season.
“Where my financial situation is at, this is the year I’ve got to make it happen,” Longobardi said. “Unless I’m getting support next year, I just can’t do it. I know this is the year that I need to make it happen to gain sponsors, to gain…everything. I need to make my money back, because I don’t have anybody paying my way.”
Despite a tough season with finishes of 108th, 99th, 89th and 110th, Longobardi said he’s only been really down one time. That was after the first day of the season-opening event on the Sabine River when he failed to catch a keeper.
He said the Sabine River event, like the other three, could have been much different with a little luck here and there.
“I think I caught seven fish in the two days at Sabine that were 13 3/4 inches,” Longobardi said. “If those fish had been 14 inches (the minimum length for a keeper), it’s a whole different story. It’s been like that at every event. At Guntersville, I lost some fish. At Sacramento, I lost a 4-pounder, a 5-pounder and a 6-pounder on Day 1.
“But those are just the stories you’re going to hear from a lot of people. You just have to be able to put your head down and catch more.”
The sechedule would seem to favor Longobardi as it swings back East toward the part of the country where he grew up. But he said he’s never fished Kentucky Lake, the St. Lawrence River or Chesapeake Bay – site of the final three Elite Series tournaments that will feature a full field.
Only the top 50 anglers in the AOY standings will qualify for the season-ending Toyota Angler of the Year Championship at Sturgeon Bay in Wisconsin. To have any hope of making that event, Longobardi will need some stellar finishes in the next three tournaments – and that’s what he’s aiming for.
“I’m not giving up on this season yet,” Longobardi said. “I’m in a position now where I got nothing to lose, and that’s dangerous. I’m going to go out there and aim for Top 10s and nothing less, and hopefully win one.”