With two tournaments left in the 2019 Bassmaster Eastern Opens, Tyler Berger is fifth in AOY points. If he holds or betters his standing after fishing the James River and Oneida Lake, Berger will achieve his longtime goal of becoming an Elite Series angler.
While growing up in central Ohio, where he still lives, Berger was more likely to don water skis than latch onto a fishing rod. His parents, Jim and Cathy, are slalom water skiing buffs. When they launch their ski boat, it is often at private lakes that cater to serious water skiers. While they zipped around on skis, the young Berger walked the bank and fished.
A 1-acre pond behind the Berger’s home sparked his initial fishing interest. He began fishing there at age 4 or 5 for anything that would bite. He especially liked catfish, because they were the biggest fish in the pond.
When he walked the shores of lakes while his parents were water skiing, Berger’s bass arsenal consisted mainly of plastic worms and the Rebel Pop R. He once bet a fried that he could catch a bass on a Pop R in five casts. On his fourth cast he landed a 4-pound largemouth.
A life-changing event took place in Berger’s early teens during an annual spring break vacation to Winter Garden, Fla. His family always stayed with Berger’s uncle Todd Wagman, who is an avid bass angler and tournament fisherman. From 2002 to 2008 Wagman competed in 22 Bassmaster Southern Opens.
“My uncle took me, my dad and my older brother Jordan bass fishing one day,” Berger said. “A whole bunch of 4- and 5-pound bass came up schooling. I was the only person in the boat that didn’t catch a bass that day. But after seeing those big fish blowing up and chasing shiners all over the surface, I was hooked.”
After that watershed outing, Berger soaked up everything he could learn about bass fishing from television shows and reading Bassmaster Magazine. A few years later, on another Florida trek, Berger teamed up with uncle Wagman to compete in his first tournament.
“I just wanted to catch one keeper,” Berger said. “I wound up catching two 4-pounders and a keeper. I lost an 8-pounder that would have won the tournament. It was crazy.”
After returning home from that outing, Berger began fishing the Jr. Bassmasters, which preceded today’s high school programs. He won the Ohio State Jr. Angler Championship tournament in 2007.
After graduating from Worthington Kilbourne High School, Berger attended Ohio State’s Fisher College of Business. While there, he competed in college tournaments and fished a few Bassmaster Southern Opens as a co-angler.
“I learned a lot fishing behind guys in the Opens,” Berger said.
After graduating from college in 2012 with a marketing degree, Berger set his sights on fishing the Bassmaster Opens. However, he did not have the time or the money to immediately follow his dream.
Berger used his education to land a job with a search engine optimization (SEO) company. His task was to help companies get their websites more prominence on search engines, such as Google. The job provided the funds but not the free time he needed to fish the Opens.
In 2015 Berger quit his job and started doing SEO work on a freelance basis. He also took a job with C.J. Shaver, a good friend and fellow bass head. Shaver owns the Columbus Barrel Co.
“At Columbus Barrel Co. we make furniture and other products out of old oak bourbon barrels. I do the company’s marketing and build a lot of their products. C.J. is also my local tournament partner and sponsors me for the Opens.”
Berger’s freelance SEO work and job at Columbus Barrel provide the cash and the time off he needs to fish the Bassmaster Opens. In 2015 he signed on to fish all of the Northern, Southern and Central Opens. Fishing all three would give him the best shot at qualifying for the Elites. His game plan was to win enough money in the early events to support him through all three divisions.
That didn’t happen. He had to drop out of the Southern and Central Opens after fishing only one tournament in each. He did manage to compete in all three Northern Opens. Over the next two seasons, Berger fished the Northern Opens only.
In 2018 he competed in the newly formed Eastern Opens and was tied for 16th in the final AOY standings. Due to the turmoil of the bass tournament world that year, B.A.S.S. invited the top 16 anglers in the Eastern Opens to join the Elites. Despite being in 16th place, Berger lost the tiebreaker with the other angler and missed his bid for he Elites by one spot.
“I follow my faith,” Berger said. “If God had wanted that to happen last year, it would have happened.”
Berger has been married to his wife, Vanessa, for two and a half years. He calls her his “rock” and says she is his biggest supporter. Vanessa works as a Worship Leader/Music Director at Adventure Church in Lewis Center, Ohio.
“I wouldn’t be able to do this without Vanessa,” Berger said. “She sees it all, the good and bad tournaments and the times when we have little money. For her to continue supporting me and believing in me is everything.