An unmistakable trend on the bass tournament scene is how skilled some of the anglers are at a young age. Take Tennessean Skylar Hamilton, for example. In June of 2016 Hamilton won the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open on the Arkansas River at age 21.
Something many of these fishing prodigies have in common is that they began casting for bass very early in life. Despite their lack of years, they have an abundance of bass fishing experience. This is surely the case with Hamilton.
Grandfather Ralph McKinney started taking Hamilton bass fishing when he was only 2 or 3 years old. By the time Hamilton was 6 years of age, he was slinging lures proficiently with baitcasting tackle and, on some outings, fishing all night with “Papaw” McKinney.
McKinney was diagnosed with leukemia when Hamilton was 7 years old. The illness gave McKinney extra motivation for passing his bass fishing knowledge down to his grandson. When Hamilton was 8 years old, he went with his parents to visit McKinney in the hospital in which he was having treatments for his disease.
“We broke him out of the hospital for a couple of hours,” Hamilton says. “We went to Bass Pro Shops where he bought me a $200 Shimano baitcasting reel.”
McKinney passed on when Hamilton was 10. The lessons Hamilton learned from his grandfather provided the foundation for his bass fishing success.
“He was not a tournament fisherman,” Hamilton says of his grandfather. “He loved to catch big fish. He would throw a Bagley DB3 all day at Douglas Lake. That was before the deep cranking caught on.”
One of Hamilton’s prized possessions is a tackle box full of his grandfather’s old DB3 crankbaits. He has a few of these lures in his boat and he will fish with them from time to time. However, the crankbaits in the tackle box are sacred.
Hamilton’s father, Larry, is also an avid bass angler who doesn’t compete in tournaments. Dad Hamilton prefers to catch numbers of bass rather than hold out for a few big ones. His primary lure is a 6-inch Texas rigged worm.
“No matter where we are, dad always fishes that worm,” Hamilton says. “He catches the fire out of them.”
Between his father and grandfather, Hamilton learned basic tactics thatproduce kicker bass and limits of bass.
At age 12, while he and his family lived in Virginia, Hamilton began fishing bass club tournaments. By age 16 he was dead set on becoming a bass pro. That year the Hamilton family moved to Douglas Lake (Dandridge, Tenn.), which is where they vacationed before resettling there.
“It was already like a second home,” Hamilton says.
After the move, it didn’t take long for Hamilton to up his game. That same year he borrowed his father’s 1993 Ranger and signed up to fish a Bassmaster Open on Douglas Lake in June of 2011. Because Hamilton was still a minor, his father and mother, Tammy, had to sign a release to allow him to compete. They also fronted the entry fee.
Douglas was Hamilton’s home water. He figured he could do well there because he “had a lot of good stuff upriver.” He finished in 22nd place.
“At the time I was upset,” Hamilton says. “I thought I did terrible. Now I wish could do that well every time.”
Today, Hamilton is a full-time fishing guide, mainly for bass at Douglas Lake. He also does some guiding at Lake Cherokee and an occasional outing for stripers. His tournament involvement is limited to local events and the Bassmaster Opens. He has already competed in 23 Bassmaster Opens.
“Making the Classic is my biggest dream,” Hamilton says. “I’d like to make the Elite Series, too.”
Hamilton currently fishes out of two boats, a fiberglass BassCat and an aluminum Bass Pro Shops Tracker Grizzly powered by a 70 hp Yamaha outboard. He won the Arkansas River Bassmaster Open fishing out of the Grizzly and claims that he has an equal number of hours on both boats.
One reason for two boats is that Hamilton loves to fish wherever there is a current. That could be fishing the tailrace of a dam from his BassCat or running far upriver in the Grizzly to find moving water.
“Water that’s dirty and moving make it easier to find the fish,” Hamilton says.
His strong suits are flipping a Berkley Havoc Pitt Boss, casting swimbaits and square bill crankbaits and drifting a white Zoom Fluke with the current.
Hamilton’s 2016 sponsors include: Yamaha, Berkley, Abu Garcia, Buckeye Lures, Power-Pole, Raymarine Electronics and Navionics electronic charts.