When prospective college athletes take recruiting visits, it’s no secret that they are given the "red carpet Treatment" in an effort to woo them to State U or Capital City Tech.
But when Lee Livesay visited the University of Louisiana-Monroe on an official football recruiting trip back in the mid-1990s, coaches didn’t put his name in lights on the stadium scoreboard, nor was he plied with plum on-campus housing.
Not that he remembers, anyway. Rather, he was wide-eyed when shown a football sponsor’s fishing spread on Bayou Desiard.
“On my first official visit there, they took me out to one of their sponsors’ places,” Livesay said. “It had a boat on a lift right on the bayou, and they said, ‘If you want to fish, you can come take the boat out any time you want.’
“That’s kind of why I decided to go there,” the 33-year-old Longview, Texas, resident said. “It was the ultimate recruiting tool. They knew what they were doing. I think I signed with them that night before I got back on the plane.”
As easily as Livesay was sold on playing for ULM, he was equally eager to join the 2019 Bassmaster Elite Series. He finished 13th in the 2018 Bassmaster Central Open standings and qualified for the Elite Series to earn his spot on bass fishing’s most prestigious circuit. It was Livesay’s third year fishing the Central Opens, and he’s finished in the money in six of the 10 Bassmaster tournaments he’s entered.
Not bad for a guy who 15 years ago was known more for delivering big hits rather than big bites. Livesay was the East Texas Defensive MVP following his senior year at Kilgore High School and had numerous offers to play college football. He played safety for ULM for four years, but he readily admits he would have been a better football player had he spent more time in the film room and less time on the water in north Louisiana.
After he graduated with a degree in biology in 2010, Livesay told his girlfriend he was leaving Monroe and moving home to east Texas. All he ever wanted to do, he told her, was to be a fishing guide on Lake Fork – the giant bass factory he fished as a youth.
“I started a lawn care business when I was 16, and my dad bought a boat,” Livesay said. “It was repo from the bank – a Skeeter with a 115 horsepower Mercury on the back. I took that boat everywhere. I got a truck and I started paying him back on the boat.
“All I was remembering was the Minnow Bucket Marina and seeing the old guys in the morning talking fishing and drinking coffee,” Livesay said. “Seeing that while I was growing up, you can ask my family or my friends. Guiding on Fork was what I was always going to do.”
One Friday afternoon, Livesay packed and left Monroe. Soon, he was the owner of a camp on Williams Creek at Lake Fork, and a few months after that, he started his guide business and fulfilled a longtime dream. He’s now in his sixth year serving locals and visitors on the storied fishery, and he averages about 300 trips a year on the lake, which is located about an hour from his home in Longview.
Livesay said he “loves” his job, but added that Lake Fork’s tendency to produce lunker bass has “spoiled’ him. He learned first-hand on the Central Opens circuit that not every fishery is nearly as productive as Lake Fork, and that taught him patience.
“I found out in a hurry that every cast wouldn’t produce a 7-pounder like Fork can do,” he said.
Livesay’s personal best on the lake is a 12.89-pounder he boated there a few years ago. A client once caught a 13.88 while on a trip with Livesay.
“It never gets old catching big bass, but it does get repetitive fishing the same lake,” he said. “I know that’s why I’m going to like being on the Elite Series. I’ll go to a tournament and joke that I forgot what it’s like to skip a jig under a dock. That’s because I haven’t fished in three weeks because I’ve been watching other people catch.”
The Elite Series will offer Livesay the opportunity to try his hand at varying fisheries at different times of year. He’ll also get to fish for spotted and smallmouth bass, which is not something he’s done frequently, though he’s confident in his ability and eager for the challenge.
“I (use spinners) a lot of time because I’ve fished so much on Lake Fork and in that area,” he said. “I’m a deep offshore guy, but I like to catch suspended fish in the wintertime … I’m good on timber and fishing drains. I’ve seen just about everything in (Lake Fork.) We’ve had grass, and then we’ve had drought which killed all of it. I think those things have helped me develop into a better angler.”
The Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest benefiting Texas Parks & Wildlife is on Lake Fork in May, and B.A.S.S. rules prohibit Elite anglers from fishing tournament waters prior to scheduled practice days. So Livesay has had to take his clients to neighboring lakes recently. That gives him a look at different water, but he knows the power plant lakes in east Texas are a “different story” compared to the places he’ll compete in 2019.
Livesay also knows that the near-constant transition from place to place throughout the U.S means the Elite Series will present mental challenges like he's never experienced before.
“The Central Opens are good competition really, but on the Elite Series, you have to make every bite count,” he said. “Every decision matters and it makes you use your brain in competitions, but also in practice. It’s a slugfest, but the Opens taught me how to go out and get five.”
And when May rolls around and it’s time for Texas Fest?
“That’s going to be huge for me,” Livesay said. “It’s like a mini-Classic almost. I’ll have my own celebration with my sponsors … have free crawfish and free beer. It’s going to be a big deal for me and for everyone that supports me.”