Opens profile: Garrett Paquette’s singular focus

Although Garrett Paquette is only 23 years old, he has dreamed of making a living in the sport of bass fishing for more than a decade. He appears to be well on his way. A resident of Canton, Mich., a Detroit suburb, Paquette guides for bass on Lake St. Clair and competes in Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Open tournaments.

After nabbing fifth place in each of the first two Bassmaster Eastern Opens of 2018 Paquette holds first place in the AOY standings. Many of today’s young up-and-coming tournament anglers were introduced to bass fishing by a parent or a close relative. Paquette’s introduction was more personal. It came by way of a bass.

While growing up, Paquette traveled north to Alpena, Mich., with his parents on every weekend during the summer months. There, his father, Phillip, would troll for lake trout and salmon on Lake Huron from a 29-foot center console.

When Paquette wasn’t on Lake Huron with his father, he fished in the boat harbor for anything that would bite. He would cast a nose-hooked minnow without a weight with ultralight spinning tackle from any docks and banks he could access on foot. Early on, he caught mainly bluegills.

“I probably started fishing that way when I was 4 or 5,” Paquette said. “I don’t think I caught anything that first year. But I’d stay out in the sun and rain all day I loved it so much.”

When Paquette was 8 years old, he pitched a minnow into the harbor and watched a 10-inch largemouth swim over and engulf it.

“That was all I needed to see,” Paquette said. “I was hooked.”

The following year Paquette added spinnerbaits and stickworms to his harbor-fishing arsenal. He was 10 when a Senko produced his first bass on an artificial lure. The largemouth weighed 3 1/2-pounds. By age 13 Paquette had ditched minnows and was determined to learn more about catching bass with artificial baits.

He learned a great deal by watching every Bassmaster tournament show aired on ESPN, which is where he was introduced to fellow Michigan angler, Kevin VanDam.

“KVD was a huge inspiration,” Paquette said. “When I was young I tried to emulate his fishing style. I quickly realized that wasn’t possible, but he did give me hope that someone from the North can go down and have success on the southern fisheries most of these events are held on.”

Paquette began to focus on how to become a capable tournament angler. His father went beyond encouraging Paquette by purchasing an 18 1/2-foot bass boat and fishing for bass with his son.

“We didn’t have much success at all,” Paquette said. “Some friends I played hockey with growing up were into bass fishing. They helped us learn.”

Paquette soon realized that he needed to be a capable largemouth bass angler if he was going to do well in local tournaments. He and his father often launched their boat at small, natural lakes where they could target largemouth.

A major milestone for Paquette was the driver’s license he acquired soon after his 16th birthday. This allowed him to tow the boat to nearby lakes and take the leap into tournament fishing, mainly one-day team events. Paquette fished some of these tournaments with friends his age, but he more often fished without a partner.

“To get where I wanted to be fishing, I had to do it myself,” Paquette said. “Competing alone against teams has helped me in the long run.”

In his first year of tournament competition, Paquette fished lakes close to home. The following year he began fishing tournaments across the state. After that he also ventured to tournaments in other states. He fished his first Bassmaster Northern Open in 2012 on Lake St. Clair as a co-angler. It was his first taste of fishing what he calls a “Triple A” tournament.

In 2016 Paquette signed up to fish all three Bassmaster Northern Opens as a pro angler. He collected one check, finishing 23rd at Oneida Lake. He competed in the Northern Opens the following year and, again, earned one check. This time it was for fourth place on the James River.

The start to his 2018 season in the Bassmaster Eastern Opens is nothing short of phenomenal. Swimming a jig produced enough bass for fifth place at Lake Okeechobee, while fishing a small swimbait 20 to 30 feet deep for spotted bass at Lake Norman produced another fifth place finish.

“Wherever I go for a tournament, I fish how I want to given the body of water,” Paquette said. “Swimming a jig is something I do back home in Michigan. I also throw little swimbaits for smallmouth up here.”

Paquette is well on his way to qualifying for the Bassmaster Elite Series, which is a major goal. However, he realizes that competing on the Elite level requires a huge commitment of time and money.

“I won’t know if I can do it until I qualify,” Paquette said. “I’d just love to make a living in this sport. If I could look to the left and to the right and see the best bass fishermen in the world, it would make it that much sweeter.”

Paquette’s sponsors include Grand Pointe Marina, Dock Talk Radio, AFTCO (fishing clothing) and Mako Polarized Eyewear.