Brett Preuett has made a pattern out of taking hardships and turning them into opportunities.
He applied to the University of Louisiana at Monroe intent on playing college baseball, but a freak accident in the summer between his senior year of high school and his freshman year of college took away the sight in one eye and, with it, his dream of playing ball.
So what did he do? He regrouped and refocused his competitive nature on another love, bass fishing. Just one problem — ULM didn’t have a fishing team. That didn’t stop the young angler, who along with a couple of friends started a new program.
He admits that he struggled that first year.
“I didn’t know how to read a depthfinder,” he recalled. “I didn’t know anything about deep, clear water or ledges or finesse. I grew up fishing shallow cypress, going down the bank. We didn’t have much support, either.”
Despite those hurdles, he and his rapidly growing number of teammates started to experience some success the following year.
“We worked together, and the next year we were second overall in the nation in the collegiate ranking system,” he said. “The third year, my partner and I won the FLW Championship on Beaver Lake.”
It was their success on the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series that catapulted Preuett's career in bass fishing. In a short period of time, he ascended from the status of wistful former baseball player to fishing in the sport’s premier event, the 2015 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro, as the winner of the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Classic Bracket.
His Classic competition didn’t come with a storybook ending, though. He finished 50th at Lake Hartwell, not quite at the bottom of the list, but still 40-plus pounds behind winner Casey Ashley.
“It’s every one of our dreams to make it there,” he said. “It’s what we all fished for. But it was really only my second big tournament, and I let the hype get to me instead of focusing on fishing.”
Once again, he found the silver lining in a disappointing week. “It definitely helped me get focused after the Bassmaster Classic. In my next tournament, I got a Top 12.”
That next event was the first Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open of the year, held on Ross Barnett, and he finished eighth. Later, his sixth-place finish in the final Central Open on Table Rock bookended a 51st-place result on Fort Gibson. The three scores landed him in eighth place for the year, good enough to get an invitation to the Elite Series for 2016, which he quickly and gladly accepted.
Along the way, he fished all nine Opens with the express intent of gaining that invitation, and while there were a few subpar tournaments along the way, overall he acquitted himself quite well, finishing in the money five times, and in the Top 12 on three occasions.
“I had a really good season, but I missed some opportunities,” he said. “I had the fish on for five Top 12s. You learn from your mistakes, all sorts of little things that might’ve helped me. At Oneida, I finished 50th, but that was my first time dealing with smallmouth. I’ve already spent some time on Mille Lacs [where there will be an Elite event in 2016]. I’m not used to tidal water or the Great Lakes, but I’ll learn, and it still comes down to fishing.”
He said that the college experience, and ULM in particular, pushed him up a steep learning curve. “It 100 percent contributed to the success I had in the Opens right off the bat. There’s no way I would’ve been able to qualify for the Elites without college.”
It wasn’t just his own teammates who helped him. While they were certainly competitive with other schools, he likened the college angling fraternity to a “band of brothers, working together to help each other out.”
Collegiate angler Austin Felix of the University of Minnesota gave him some initial advice on how to attack Mille Lacs. He’s also talked to Matt and Jordan Lee, two former collegiate champs who’ve made the transition to the Elite Series, about their own Bassmaster Classic experiences — and before the season starts, he may pick their brains about their move to the big leagues.
With three months to go until he lines up against the likes of Skeet Reese, Mike Iaconelli and Aaron Martens, Preuett continues to work diligently on his sponsorship portfolio and on the skills he knows he’ll need to compete every day against the world’s best anglers. All the while, he maintains a positive attitude, noting that “everything is continuing to fall into place.”
And if at some point things don’t work out, how will he handle it then? Is the MBA he earned at ULM some sort of fallback plan? He has proved he’s good at turning missed chances into self improvement, but that doesn’t mean he’s banking on Plan B.
“I have faith, based on the way things have worked out so far, that this is what I was meant to do,” he said. “I want to prove to others that I can compete on the Elite Series level.”