MANY, La. — Chances are you’ve never heard of Justin Leet, a Basspro.com Bassmaster Opens co-angler from Memphis, Tenn. The chances are very good you will sooner than later.
Last year Leet signed up to fish the Opens event at Ross Barnett Reservoir “just to practice” for the regional events he would fish later on the Mississippi fishery. Practice turned to victory as Leet won the co-angler division in his first event.
Leet entered the remaining three Central Opens and twice fished on Championship Saturday, finishing in 11th on the Arkansas River in Oklahoma and fifth at Lake Logan Martin in Alabama. The goal became qualifying for the Basspro.com Bassmaster Opens Championship, which he did.
Leet, 31, works a fulltime IT job for a financial services software company. Like anyone else fishing from the back of the boat, he wants to move to the front. Wisely, he is deliberately taking his time.
“After the AOY championship it was a tough decision to move up or stay put,” he said. “It came down to confidence and gaining experience on new bodies of water.”
This season he is fishing both divisions as a co-angler to do just that while he networks and learns even more.
“I’m just here to learn, and if I catch fish that makes it even better.”
So far so good with Leet well on his way to taking the next step in 2019. Here is more about Leet, a co-angler with a plan.
How did you get started in tournaments?
In 2013 I inherited a 17-foot jonboat from my grandfather, who introduced me to fishing. I made the decision to get into tournaments and joined the West Tennessee Puddle Jumpers bass club. I fished as a co-angler for three years and then moved up to boater. I won the club AOY title in 2016.
What came next?
First, I wanted to start at the grass-roots level, the very beginning, before moving up. Then I won AOY my first year as a boater and decided to get more serious. Ross Barnett was my first Opens tournament. After that I fished the remaining three events with the goal of qualifying as a co-angler for the AOY Championship.
What do you like most about being a co-angler?
Watching the action on the live stream or TV almost makes it feel unattainable. But when you put yourself in the boat with the pro that puts it into a real-time situation. You are also with the same anglers, on and off the water, and you get the true feel for what it’s like to compete in a tournament.
What are lessons learned from your first season?
I go back to the mental side of the game. On my second day at Ross Barnett I caught my biggest fish on the last cast. On the second day at the Arkansas River I was zeroed with 20 minutes to go and caught a 2-pounder. That fish put me inside the cut. So the biggest lesson learned was never giving up.
Besides fishing from the back what’s the biggest challenge?
Capitalizing on opportunities. Being in the back you get fewer opportunities and you can only weigh three keepers. So staying totally focused with every cast is the challenge. It’s just a must.
Who’s been your best boater partner so far?
It’s somebody nobody’s ever heard of before. He knew I was doing well and had a chance to win. He said to me, “today is for you,” and then gave me every opportunity to do well. That really stood out to me.
What advice do you have for newcomers?
Just do it. I think a lot of people are hesitant because they feel intimidated. Everyone is so willing to help that all you’ve got to do is ask for it.
How do you prepare for a tournament?
I spend a lot of time watching YouTube videos and doing internet research on previous tournaments. Bait selection is most important to me. You don’t have control of the boat, but you do with lures, and I like to be prepared. I’m pretty OCD about my lures.
How do you pack for a tournament?
I match the lures that were historically successful for that time of year with the baits that I am confident in using.
What do you take in the boat?
I take six rods and a Plano soft tackle bag. I store soft plastics inside two plastic storage containers. On top is a space for strapping a Plano 3600 where I keep hard baits. That’s pretty much it.
Name one thing you cannot do with out.
A Chatterbait. It’s the co-angler go-to bait and it proved its value to me last season.
What are your goals?
I want to take my time. I still have a lot of learning to do. That’s a goal. Every tournament is a learning experience. So learning is number one. If I keep doing well then next year it’ll be to compete as a boater.