Oct. 21, 2017, is a day that Caleb Sumrall will never forget. The 30-year-old Atchafalaya Bassmasters member was a bundle of nerves on that final day of the Academy Sports + Outdoors B.A.S.S. Nation Championship presented by Magellan Outdoors.
Sumrall was in contention to win the biggest tournament of his life at Lake Hartwell. On the line was a berth in the 2018 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods. Paid entries in the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens came with the win. So did the chance to join the Bassmaster Elite Series. It was a lot to consider for a recently unemployed oil field worker.
“It all started to hit me about midday when I only had one fish in the livewell,” he recalled. “I just convinced myself to set it all aside and go catch a limit.”
That was easier said than done. Shortly after 1:30 p.m., he caught the limit. Sumrall’s final catch only weighed 9 pounds, 13 ounces, but what happened at the weigh-in made up for the low weight by tournament standards.
“It was the biggest limit of my life and probably always will be,” he said.
Indeed. The flood of emotions returned as Sumrall accepted the Bryan V. Kerchal Memorial Trophy. Next March, he will return to Lake Hartwell for the Classic in South Carolina. He will fish in the 2018 Central Opens. Joining the Elite Series is a possibility.
Sumrall is being brutally honest with himself, but he sincerely wants to keep the momentum going, move up to the highest level.
“I’m all in and it’s going to take a work ethic like none other,” he admitted.
Sumrall knows success at the Elite Series level takes tremendous discipline, and he’s already gained the respect of his peers for his work ethic on the water.
“I have never seen anyone who prepares harder for a tournament than Caleb,” said Ryan Lavigne, the fellow Louisianan who won the 2016 B.A.S.S. Nation Championship.
“I practice like it’s a tournament, drive my boat 5 mph faster even when I don’t need to, so I can get more casts when I arrive on a spot,” said Sumrall. “I do tackle prep at night to spend every valuable minute of daylight on the water.”
Sumrall did just that in preparing for the championship at Lake Hartwell. He spent the final week open to pre-practice on the lake, from sunup to sundown. He then moved on to lakes Keowee and Richard B. Russell. The goal was learning how to effectively pattern schooling fish on reservoirs with herring.
The advanced research paid off. Sumrall discovered a school of bass like none other on Lake Hartwell. The winning school of fish was bigger in average size and more concentrated. Most of the schools targeted by other anglers had fewer bass and were loosely organized.
Lavigne’s compliment is fact. Sumrall’s deep dive into advance bass fishing skills goes back to 2015, when he joined the Atchafalaya Bassmasters. That year and the next, he qualified for the state team and fished the divisional championships. In 2016, he won the state championship and with it came paid entry fees in the Central Opens. This year, he stepped outside his comfort zone and fished the Northern Opens.
“It was a long shot, but I wanted to learn how to fish the smallmouth lakes,” said. “That’s what it takes to get to the next level, being versatile and there was no other way to get there except jump right in.”
Note the continued use of the word “learn.” Sumrall lives in south Louisiana, surrounded by some of the best shallow water bass fishing in the nation. The bayous, rivers and estuaries are a power fisherman’s dream. A short drive away across the state line is Toledo Bend and Sam Rayburn.
Ironically, those two powerhouse impoundments served as classrooms for Sumrall to learn about offshore fishing.
“Me and a buddy went often to Toledo Bend, forcing ourselves to use nothing else but a drop shot rig,” said Sumrall. “It wasn’t easy and the temptation was there to do what we knew worked better at the time, but we never gave it up.”
After Oct. 21, there were even bigger decisions to make. Accepting or declining the Elite Series invitation came next.
“I thought, man this could actually happen, a life changer, and I probably thought about it more that afternoon than I should,” he admitted. “Trying to win, qualify for the Classic and now the Elites, what a great opportunity.”
The win also came with $16,000 to be used toward entry fees, and he chose to accept the Elite Series invitation.
Sumrall’s current life could be described as a full plate of dreams. Some have already come true. He’s hopeful there is more of that to come.