Opens profile: William's long Classic road

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James Overstreet

Tommy Williams poses with the trophy and the bass that landed the hardware.

Tommy Williams of Shepherdsville, Ky., didn’t give the Bassmaster Classic much thought when he sighed up to compete in the 2020 Bassmaster Eastern and Central Opens. He was hoping to do well enough to qualify for the Bassmaster Elite Series.

Poor starts in both Open divisions quashed his Elite Series aspirations. The best he could hope for at that point was winning one of the remaining events. Along with a pile of cash, a victory would earn Williams a berth to the 2021 Bassmaster Classic at Lake Ray Roberts, Texas.

That long shot hit the bullseye when Williams won the Bassmaster Central Open at Lake Lewisville, Texas. Williams admits to being a bit overwhelmed by this accomplishment.

“I consider myself as a C-class fisherman,” said the 52-year-old angler. “To be able to sit at the table at the Classic is a dream come true after a long, hard battle.”

Williams’ battle for bass stardom began when he was 8 years old. This is when his father, Leon, who lives in Fairdale, Ky., began fishing local buddy tournaments with him. He won his first tournament with his father, a youth event, in 1975.

Williams and his father began fishing the larger circuits near home when he was in his teens. His father competed as a boater, while Williams did so as a non-boater. This was prior to co-angler tournaments. At this time boaters and non-boaters competed against each other.

“It was every man for himself,” Williams said. “We fished mostly at Rough River, Nolin, Green River, Barren River and Barkley. Barkley is still my favorite lake.”

Williams qualified for the championship in two tours at age 16 and won them both. One prize was a 16-foot Charger bass boat. The other championship provided enough cash to buy a 115 Mercury outboard for the boat.

Williams had won a bass boat before he had a truck to tow it with. The boat prompted him to step up from the non-boater to boater side of the equation in tournaments where he was allowed to do so with his father’s written consent.

However, he was unable to compete in Red Man tournaments until age 18, which he did as soon as he was eligible. During this phase he often fished tournaments on Kentucky Lake and the Ohio River out of Louisville, Ky.

“Kentucky lake is where I learned ledge fishing,” Williams said. “The Ohio River taught me a lot about fishing creeks and very shallow water.”

His Ohio River background certainly paid dividends when Williams fished the 2020 Bassmaster Central Open at Lake Lewisville, Texas. He won the event by fishing creeks and shallow water.

“My friends get after me for being a mudhole fisherman,” Williams said. “I can fish offshore and with finesse baits when I have to. But I’m a spinnerbait, flipping, squarebill, shallow, dirty-water fisherman. I seek out shallow flats, isolated cover, creek channels and the backs of creeks first.”

Williams initially made a living as a welder by trade. To make more time for fishing he started his own lawncare company, Greenside Up, 22 years ago. Besides the time he takes off from work to fish tournaments spring through fall, his occupation gives him three months off to fish during the winter when lawn grass lies dormant.

He and his wife Christy spent the winter months in Florida until they had children. His daughter, Madison, is now 19, and his son, JT, is 8.

Williams fished the EverStart circuit for several years and did well, qualifying for their championship in 10 consecutive years. He also competed in four divisions of the LBL circuit.

He had fished only two Bassmaster tournaments prior to the 2020 Bassmaster Opens. One was an Eastern Invitational at Lake Eufaula in 1996. The other was a Northern Open on the Detroit River in 2010.

“Making Elites is absolutely my goal,” Williams said. “I had a hard time adjusting this year to places I’d never fished before. But I love traveling to new lakes. It’s the adventure of not knowing what’s round next turn of the creek that keeps me going.”