After the first two Bassmaster Central Opens of 2020, Paul Browning of Morrilton, Ark., leads the Central Opens Angler of the Year point standings. A bigger challenge for Browning than catching bass has been making time to fish. He runs his own subcontracting business, Paul Browning Welding LLC, and puts in long hours working in the Texas oil fields.
About the only time Browning goes fishing these days is when he heads for a Bassmaster Central Open.
“Everybody tells me I work too much,” Browning said. “But you’ve got to work to do what you want to do in life. Work and family come first.”
Browning’s family includes his wife, Heather; daughter Kaylen, 19; and son Christian, 14.
Time for fishing wasn’t always so limited. His family lived on a small lake and he began fishing with his father, also named Paul, at around age 7. Browning’s father never competed in tournaments, but he was an avid bass angler.
“Our bass boat was a 14-foot flat bottom with a trolling motor,” Browning said.
Browning’s father favored Texas-rigged worms and taught his son what he knew about fishing with this bait. Browning’s enthusiasm for bass fishing caught fire, and he began learning more about it by reading and watching videos.
“I started mowing yards when I was 9 and all my money went to fishing,” Browning said. “It still does,” he quipped.
By the time Browning was 12 there was barely enough room in his father’s boat for his tackleboxes. They were stuffed with buzzbaits, Zara Spooks, crankbaits, jerkbaits and scores of other lures.
Browning fished his home lake from the small boat until he graduated from the Tulsa Welding School after high school. That’s when he began working and bought his own boat, an 18-foot Tracker Avalanche sporting a 150 hp outboard.
“I started fishing bass tournaments the very next weekend,” Browning said.
The oil fields were booming in Browning’s home state of Arkansas then, and he was able to go fishing several times a week. He competed in local events and joined the Fourche Valley Bass Club to participate in their tournaments.
“I was doing very well, but I was always getting beat by a bass hammer named Wayne Dixon,” Browning said. “That was the best thing for me because it made me spend more time on the water trying to beat him.”
Fishing took a distant back seat to work in 2011 when the oil boom in Arkansas crashed. To keep his business going he had to begin working in Texas and reduce his staff of welders from 10 to three.
Despite having limited time to fish, Browning competed in the Bassmaster Central Opens for the first time in 2019. He never finished high enough in any of the four events to get so much as a sniff of the money.
“I had a hard time managing work and fishing at the same time,” Browning said. “I had trouble concentrating on fishing while I was away from my business.”
This year Browning hired a new employee, Chad Alexander, who he fully trusts to take care of hisbusiness while he competes in the Central Opens. With this mind totally focused on fishing, Browning finished 12th at the first Central Open of 2020 on the Arkansas river and 20th at the second event at Sam Rayburn.
“On the Arkansas River I flipped wood and grass in 2 feet of water,” Browning said. “At Rayburn, I was flipping brush piles 18 to 20 feet deep with the same bait, a Strike King Slither Rig with a Big Bite Fighting Frog on it.”
Although Browning dreams of qualifying for the Bassmaster Classic, it would mean more to him if he did so via the Bassmaster Elite Series than by winning an Open tournament.
“Welding has been good to me, but I would quit in a heartbeat if I could fish for a living,” Browning said.
Browning currently fishes from a 2015 Ranger Z520. His sponsors include Denali Rods and Daiwa Reels.