Southern Open: Vu Au's American dream

Tucson’s Vu Au longs to become the first angler of Vietnamese descent to qualify for the Bassmaster Classic and the Bassmaster Elite Series.

Currently at 14th place in the Southern Opens standings for 2015, a 19th place finish at the Toho Southern Open put the 32-year-old on pace to achieving his personal American dream, a dream Au has nurtured since he was a young teen.

Given what it took for his father, Thao Au, and mother, Vui Thi Ha, to get here, Au doesn’t take the freedom and opportunity he enjoys as an American citizen lightly.

During the Vietnam War Au’s parents were constantly at risk of being killed by the Vietcong. They boarded a boat to flee the madness with little more than the clothing they were wearing, not knowing what the future would bring.

“Some boats were robbed by Thai pirates,” Au said. “Women were raped. People were killed. My parents were lucky enough to end up in the Philippines where there were thousands of other Vietnamese refugees.”

Au was conceived and born the year that his parents were held in a Philippine refugee camp. One of Au’s uncles had already made his way to America. He was the one that got Au and his family here. They didn’t waste time making the most of it.

“Dad is welder and did mechanic work from home,” Au said. “He never took any assistance from anyone. No food stamps, housing, etc. He’s all elbow grease and hard work ‘til this day. I respect him the most.”

Mom initially stayed at home taking care of Au and his three siblings. They include his older brother Thien, 34, younger brother Tai, 30, and sister Thu, 28.

“As we got older, mom worked as a technician soldering electrical components,” Au said. “She eventually owned her own nail salon and is now semi-retired.”

While growing up, Au fished from the bank with his father at urban ponds. They would catch bluegills, catfish and whatever else would bite to put food on the table. When Au was about 8 years old, he found a discarded plastic worm on the shoreline.

He put the worm on a hook, cast it into the pond and caught his first bass. The 1-pound largemouth hooked Au far more deeply than Au had hooked it.

“After that I started getting into reading about bass fishing,” Au said. “When I went shopping with my mom, I’d stay in the magazine isle and read Bassmaster Magazine.”

Au would later join B.A.S.S. and become a fan of professional anglers such as Roland Martin, Larry Nixon and Bill Dance. He was intrigued that these men actually made a living through bass fishing.

Au made his money the old fashion way. He learned the mechanic trade while working for his father after school. He also worked as a lot attendant at a local Honda dealership. The title lot attendant was a euphemism for “car washer.”

“I bought my first bass boat when I was a lot attendant,” Au said.

The 18-year-old Au found a 1987 Bass Tracker with a 60 hp Mercury outboard for $2,800 on Craigslist. He bought the boat with money he had saved and used it to compete in bass tournaments near Tucson.

“I did badly at first,” Au said. “When I was 22 years old, I finally started winning some money.”

Boosted by his progress, Au bought an 18-foot Nitro powered by a 150 hp outboard three years later.

The demands of earning a living prevented Au from fishing as often as he would have liked.

“I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth,” he said.

After high school, Au took auto technology classes at Pima Community College. With the education he got from college and his father, Au eventually started his own business, Ryan Automotive.

The business is named after his 13-year-old son. He also has an 8-year-old daughter, Haylee, and a wife, Nancy, who “is my biggest fan.”

Ryan Automotive has grown to the point where Au has enough employees that he can devote more time to going after his dream.

When Au decided it was time to get a taste of competing at a higher level, he signed on as a co-angler to fish an FLW Rayovac tournament at Arizona’s Lake Roosevelt in April of 2009. Au won the tournament and pocketed $25,000.

He fished a number of FLW events as a boater the following years. That gave him the confidence to go for the Bassmaster Central Opens in 2014. The first event at Amistad was a disaster. Au finished 131st.

He fared better at the next tournament on the Red River, landing in 68th place. Au finished the season on a high note nabbing seventh place at the Arkansas River.

Au opted for the Southern Opens this year and is off to a much better start with his 19th place finish on Toho. He finished 31st on the Alabama River in the second Southern Open of 2015. Regardless of how the final Open of 2015 goes, Au hopes to fish two Opens divisions next year. He recently purchased a Ranger Z21 and feels better equipped to take on the challenge.

“My sponsors are MARJON, Force Capitol partners, EC source, a company that builds transmission towers for power lines, A&M graphics, D&M Custom Baits and Fitzgerald Rods,” Au said.

Au isn’t the only bass nut in the family. Younger brother Tai is also into angling. They’ve helped each other improve along the way and still share ideas.

Tai was the first of the two brothers to attend a Bassmaster Classic. He entered a video contest put on by Humminbird. The person with the best video that captured memorable moments with kids would win a trip for the family to meet legendary anglers at the 2015 Classic at Lake Hartwell. Tai won.

Tai’s inspirational video was screened at the Classic for the fans, and it can be viewed on YouTube.