Teen chasing dream at Open


James Overstreet

Tennessee teenager Lawson Tilghman’s dream of fishing a B.A.S.S. event finally came true today at the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open. Until now the holdup was his birthday.

On March 29, Tilghman turned 16 to meet the minimum age requirement. Much already happened before he stepped into the boat as the co-angler for Andy Morgan on Day 1 at Lake Chickamauga.

Call his a story of innocence, hope, inspiration and overcoming challenges.

Tilghman caught the fishing bug at age 9. Michael and Jennifer Tilgham noticed their son had more than a short-term interest in the sport. Building lures from kits turned into a fulltime hobby. The creations were tested on the family lake outside of Memphis. Tilghman began catching bass on his own lures.

Michael and Jennifer thought the fascination would wear off until the next fad came along. That never happened.

Dreams started growing outside the backyard lake. Tilghman wanted to attend Camp Bass, the youth camp that teaches the fundamentals of bass fishing at Lake Fork, Texas. Students learn about safe boat operation, co-angler skills, leadership, teamwork and communication. Pro anglers and guides teach the classes.

Getting into the camp isn’t easy. Hundreds apply and only 20 are admitted. The entry requirement is writing an essay about why the camp prospect should get in.

That part wasn’t easy for Tilghman. He is dyslexic.

“School does not come very easy for him,” said Jennifer, his mother. “But he has such a creative mind, and we encourage him to think outside the box.”

“We let him write his essay dyslexic with misspelled words, as it was, because that’s just who he is,” continued Jennifer.

The Tilghmans were told on the phone call confirming admission the essay was one of the best ever received by the camp. In 2013, Tilghman spent the week at camp and everything seemed to be going well.

Back home, the phone call came in from Lake Fork Trophy Lures, the camp sponsor. What came next confirmed what the Tilghman’s already knew. Their son was serious about bass fishing.

Lawson wanted to use one of his lure inventions after not getting a bite during a session. The pro instructor agreed. The student caught a 10-pounder using a lure of his own design.

“They were just really impressed with his skills and creativity for mixing up lures,” explained Jennifer. “It just really fired him up from then on.”

Lake Fork Trophy Lures became his first product sponsor. Today, there are more. The Tilghmans attended a Bassmaster Classic, searching out pros for advice on how to help their son. They eagerly agreed to help the aspiring teenager. The recent Classic in Houston was their fourth trip.

An essay and resume got sent to Ranger Boats. The goal wasn’t getting on the pro staff but that’s what happened.

“All Lawson wanted to do was be part of Ranger, be creative and maybe do something outside the box, like we always encourage him to do,” added Jennifer.

This phone rang again and the caller was Forrest L. Wood, the founder of Ranger Boats. He welcomed the chance to see just how creative the now 14-year-old teenager wanted to be in designing a boat. The result? Lawson’s idea of a black-and-lime gelcoat color scheme was integrated into the boat.

Lawson Tilghman is now a member of the Ranger team.

LTF, which stands for Lawson Tilghman Fishing, came next, complete with lime-and-black branding and a website (lawsonTfishing.com).

Tilghman attends Rossville Christian Academy in Rossville, just outside Memphis. Recently he me with the school board about starting a fishing team.

“He explained to them that not all kids are contact sport athletes,” said Jennifer of her son’s pitch.

Fishing provided another sport option to get boys and girls involved in athletics. The board accepted and now the school has a fishing team.

Last month Tilghman was a Marshal at the Bassmaster Elite at Toledo Bend presented by Econo Lodge. He’ll do that again at the next four Elite Series events.

“Every time I go fishing my goal is learning something new,” he said. “The best way is to go experience it firsthand, either on your own or watching other anglers.”

Learning, not winning, was a goal taught to him early on by Michael and Jennifer.

So far so good.

“If he doesn’t do well in a tournament it doesn’t bother him,” she said. “He just shakes it off and is ready for the next tournament.”

“He normally comes off the water and is real excited about telling us about something new he learned,” she added.

What comes next?

“I just want to keep learning, get better, enjoy it,” said Tilghman.

He is well on his way to doing that and more. No matter what stands in the way.