Minnesota’s Keith Tuma is still floating somewhere up in the stratosphere after winning the 2021 Bassmaster Southern Open on the Harris Chain. It was the first Bassmaster Open he had ever competed in. His goal was to “get my feet wet and see what happens.”
“A top 40 would have been phenomenal,” Tuma said. “Winning was completely unexpected. I never imagined I’d be fishing the Classic, the biggest show in bass fishing.”
Provided that Tuma fishes the final two Southern Opens of the season, which he intends to do, he will receive an invite to the 2022 Bassmaster Classic. Since his victory, the 48-year-old angler has been blown away by the requests for interviews, the articles and the videos.
“I get a big grin when I watch a video I’m in,” Tuma said. “It’s like I’m looking at some other competitor. Hey, I know that guy. It hasn’t sunk in yet that it’s real.”
Although Tuma claimed he was practically born with a fishing pole in his hand, he didn’t get the bass tournament bug until he was nearly 30 years old. While growing up in Florida, his father, Keith, an avid bass angler, had him fishing in youth tournaments at 4 years of age.
His favorite pastime was fishing small ponds for bass and bream at the apartment complex where his grandparents lived near Fort Lauderdale. He moved to Minnesota with his family at age 7.
His parents had purchased a resort on Leech Lake where they often vacationed during the summer months. The fishing emphasis there was primarily for walleye, perch, pike and the occasional muskie. When Tuma learned that bass also swim in Leech Lake he pestered them incessantly.
He worked as a guide at the resort from age 13 through 17. His job as a “dock boy” included maintenance, fish cleaning and caring for customers and their boats.
“It was a great way to grow up,” Tuma said.
Tuma is mechanically minded and has a zeal for fast cars and boats. After high school he earned a degree in automotive machining and moved to Grand Rapids, Mich. There he got into building racing engines. Most of them were for dragsters, but he also built engines for circle track cars and racing boats.
He eventually moved back to Minnesota and started his own business in Brainerd called Tuff Tow (tufftow.com), which he still owns and operates.
“Tuff Tow is a unit that installs on the tongue of a trailer used for heavy hauling, like an enclosed trailer for a race car,” Tuma said. “It takes 2,000 pounds of weight off the tow vehicle.”
He also got reacquainted with some old high school friends. One of them was Jim Smith, an avid bass tournament angler who had opened the Tournament Tackle Shop in Brainerd.
“Jim got me jazzed about fishing tournaments,” Tuma said.
In 2001 Tuma bought his first bass boat, a Skeeter, and began fishing tournaments with the Brainerd Lake Bass Club. He runs a Skeeter in Bassmaster tournaments but has a Stroker “hotrod boat” that he sometimes uses in local tournaments.
“It’s a runner,” he said.
After five or six years of fishing club events, Tuma began competing in money tournaments and did well. However, it was fishing the Minnesota B.A.S.S. Nation Team tournament trail with partner Andy Walls that set the table for his miraculous Bassmaster Open victory.
In 2018, their first year fishing the trail, they won the Angler of the Year title and qualified to fish the championship tournament at the Harris Chain. They finished 38th out of 197 boats.
“We were pleased, but we made some mistakes,” Tuma said.
In 2020 they again qualified for the championship, which was also held at the Harris Chain. They finished in second place. This success encouraged Tuma to step up to the 2021 Bassmaster Southern Opens. After all, the first event in the series was at the Harris Chain.
While practicing for the Open, the areas that had produced for Tuma during the team championship were devoid of grass and bass. He eventually found an area that was similar to what he had fished the previous year, which was submerged hydrilla in 6 to 8 feet of water. Retrieving a ChatterBait over the grass was his winning strategy.
When he is home in Minnesota, Tuma often fishes for fun with his 14-year-old daughter Breanne.