Tucker Smith is majoring in business at Auburn University, but for the past three years, he’s also majored in championships at Briarwood Christian School in Birmingham, Ala.
The 19-year-old college freshman was part of his third consecutive national title team when he paired with Hayden Marbut to win the Mossy Oak Fishing Bassmaster High School National Championship presented by Academy Sports + Outdoors held on Kentucky Lake on Oct. 22-24. The duo caught 47 pounds, 5 ounces of bass over three days to win the event by nearly 10 pounds.
The victory came despite catching only two bass for 7-14 on an especially difficult final day of fishing when temperatures failed to climb out of the 40s and the wind blew a steady 15-20 mph, turning Kentucky Lake into more of a wave pool than a Tennessee River reservoir.
Smith has made habit of winning on Kentucky Lake, after pairing there with Grayson Morris in 2018 and 2019 to secure national title trophies for Briarwood.
Morris graduated high school in 2019, which had Smith seeking a new partner on the water. He found his match in Marbut, who is a senior at Briarwood currently. Smith, of course, has been the common denominator in a trio of championships, and he was able to fish the 2020 event after it was postponed from its scheduled summer date due to coronavirus restrictions on the B.A.S.S. circuit at that time.
Smith said the most recent championship is the most satisfying for a number of reasons.
“We had to switch it up from what we would have done in August,” he said. “My style of fishing is shallow-water flipping and throwing a ChatterBait. But we were on Kentucky Lake in October. It was super cold, and we had to throw topwater baits. I was confident we’d figure it out, but we had to break things down completely different. I got out of my comfort zone. That makes this win really stand out over the other two.”
Still, Kentucky Lake is a comfort zone of its own for Smith, despite the added pressure championship fishing can bring. And after winning twice before with Morris on the massive reservoir, he knew he could catch fish there.
Everyone else in the field believed it too, and for good reason. Smith and Marbut were marked men, but they basked in the spotlight.
“I thrive off pressure, I think,” Smith said. “When there’s a camera on me, it makes me fish better. It makes me pay attention to everything, to not lose track of what I want to do. I’m glad it worked out this year again, especially for my buddy Hayden. I wanted him to know what it feels like to win a national championship.”
Four remarkable minutes likely provided the boost Smith and Marbut needed to secure Briarwood’s third consecutive championship
“I saw an indention in a flat on the graph and thought it could be something,” Smith said. “In five casts, we caught 22 pounds. I had a 4-pound smallmouth explode on my topwater bait, and then Hayden caught a 7 1/2-pound largemouth on a different topwater. We caught three more 4-pound smallies in just a few more minutes.
“It was by far the craziest four minutes of fishing in my life.”
J.T. Russell, who has been boat captain for each of Briarwood’s three national title teams, said Smith and Marbut say very little on the water, but they communicate well through their actions on the boat. Their silent chemistry, he said, is similar to what Smith and Morris enjoyed in competition.
“My two most-important jobs are to drive the boat and make sure the snacks are stocked,” said Russell, a class of 2016 Briarwood alum who fished for the University of Montevallo bass team and graduated from there just months ago.
“Tucker is a heck of an angler, Russell said. “I’d only met Hayden a few times before, but he’s good too. I knew if we got on some fish, they’d do what they needed to do to win.”
Hank Weldon, the director of the B.A.S.S. College, High School and Junior Series, said there’s no question Briarwood has had something special going in recent years.
“Tucker’s incredible,” Weldon said. “To compete and win three straight times is unbelievable. But to do it at a different time of year on that lake against three different groups of anglers that big? That’s really impressive. Heck, anytime you win three in a row of anything, it’s a big deal.”
Weldon said Smith comes across as an “ice-in-the-veins” competitor who never rattles under pressure. But, he added, that Smith’s among the most personable young anglers he’s met.
“He’s very mature, and he’s very respectful,” Weldon said. “He’s everything a tournament director would want in a contender. He never complains about the rules. He plays the game he’s supposed to play. He accepts the competition, and he goes out and wins.”
Smith said he’s been blessed to compete with great anglers such as Marbut and Morris, the latter who now attends Montevallo and fishes for the school. Though he didn’t get a chance to compete with the Auburn team this year because of team travel restrictions due to coronavirus, Smith said he’s itching for a chance to win a college title. He also has designs on fishing Bassmaster Opens soon and hopes to reach the Bassmaster Classic one day.
The odds against reaching that elite level are high, but Smith’s spent a few years defying the numbers, so why stop now?
“Some of my earliest memories are of reeling in a fish, being in a tournament with my uncle and my grandpa,” Smith said. “My parents are super supportive. I’m blessed to be able to do this, and I certainly want to keep on trying as long as I can.
“I think I can be successful.”