Louisiana native Brett Preuett was one day past his high school graduation and preparing for a career as a college baseball player when his life took a turn no one could have predicted.
He was playing backyard whiffle ball with some friends, and the ball was hit straight to him. Instead of throwing the ball as fielders usually do to record an out in whiffle ball, Preuett playfully dove and tackled the runner.
“Somehow his elbow just hit me perfectly in my right eye,” Preuett said. “Blood started pouring out.”
The freakish accident had torn Preuett’s optic nerve, leaving him permanently blinded in his right eye. Trying to hit 90 mph fastballs at the college level was no longer in his future.
It was one life-changing event that led to another.
“A couple of weeks after that accident, one of my baseball coaches asked if I wanted to go fish a tournament at Toledo Bend,” Preuett said. “I had been fishing since I was 2 years old. I fished for white perch, catfish — anything I could catch, anywhere I could find ‘em swimming — but that was my first tournament.
“I was in love with it from the very start.”
He loved tournament fishing so much that he helped start a college fishing program at the University of Louisiana Monroe. While fishing for the Warhawks, he qualified for the 2014 College Classic Bracket on Georgia’s Lake Chatuge.
During the Bracket, he got a giant treble hook stuck in the back of his head and nearly fell out of his boat while chasing a rod that he ultimately lost. But he won the event, earning an automatic berth into the 2015 Bassmaster Classic and free entry fees into the Bassmaster Opens.
After an outstanding season on the Opens circuit that included three Top 12 finishes, Preuett qualified for the 2016 Bassmaster Elite Series — and everything in his life started to make sense.
“I got saved when I was 24, and that’s when I realized it was just all part of God’s plan,” he said. “If it all hadn’t happened the way it did, I wouldn’t have started fishing tournaments. I certainly wouldn’t have made it into college fishing and then professional fishing and met so many great people across the country.
“It’s been an awesome experience for me and my family.”
Of course, it hasn’t always been easy.
After a difficult rookie season that saw him blow out the lower unit of his outboard in two events, Preuett finished 96th in the 2016 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings. Then after finishing 99th in 2017, he failed to requalify for the 2018 Elite Series.
He spent a year fishing the FLW Tour — and now he’s back, hoping to live up to the potential he’s shown since is tournament career began.
“I feel like I’ve had some really bad breaks, and I know that happens to every fisherman at some point,” he said. “I’ve been so close. I’ve lost some big fish that would have helped me make the cut at certain events.
“During the Costa event this year before the Elite Series season started, I lost six big fish and still finished fourth. Any one of those fish would have helped me win.”
As for Preuett’s eye, he said it bothered him a little bit in the beginning with depth perception. But his good eye eventually compensated for the loss — and today, the only time he notices it is when one of his friends scolds him for fishing without adequate eye protection.
“I get in trouble all the time from my friends,” he said. “They yell at me, ‘Why are you not wearing glasses?’”
At age 28, he believes he has the ability to be one of the top anglers on the Elite Series.
Like most Louisiana natives, he loves shallow-water power fishing. But through his travels on the Bassmaster Tournament Trail, he’s learned to love deepwater smallmouth, too — as evidenced by a 16th-place finish at the 2017 Bassmaster Elite at Michigan’s Lake St. Clair.
For the first time in his life, he actually feels like a veteran tournament pro.
“This year is the first time in my career when I’ve actually been to most of the places on the schedule,” he said. “That makes a huge difference.
“My first time going to the St. Lawrence River (in 2017), it was weird to me just getting used to the current. Now I’m prepared for things like that.”
Preuett said there’s no one event on the schedule he’s looking forward to more than any other.
He’s just hoping for that breakout moment — wherever it may come.
“I want to do well enough to continue to do this for a living,” he said. “I believe this sport is the perfect fit for my life. I just need to keep working hard and have everything fall together.”