LA CROSSE, Wis. — You would imagine that Trey Swindle, 19, has an advantage over others in his quest to become a bass pro. As the nephew of Gerald Swindle, he should have all the free tackle, GPS map chips, and inside advice needed to circumvent the beat down faced by most newcomers.
Truth is none of the above is true. One of the sport’s most successful anglers is sharing something the nephew values more than anything else. Call it tough love. Neither Swindle would have it any other way. Tough love, hard work and devotion to God and family are what define the Swindle family, and Trey is learning how that leads to successes in life.
When he was 8 years old, Trey’s father died of pancreatic cancer. Tony Swindle was Gerald’s brother, best friend and fishing companion. One of his last requests was for Gerald to mentor Trey should he want to take up the sport.
Following Tony’s death, weekends were spent at a pond in northeast Alabama. Trey fished while everyone else swam. At 15, Trey fished his first tournament with a family friend. Surrounded by lakes Guntersville, Smith, Neely Henry and Logan Martin, Trey had plenty of opportunities to hone his angling skills. That carried over to high school, where Trey showed signs of having what it would take to continue moving up.
“I wasn’t going to ask Gerald for help, because he was never home for very long, always getting ready for the next trip, doing shows, or spending family time,” said Trey.
High school graduation was approaching with Trey contemplating what to do next. The answer came when Gerald invited him to go fishing on Lake Guntersville. The pivotal man-to-man talk came that night.
“It was straight up, face to face and he asked me just one question,” said Trey. “And that was whether or not I wanted to go to college.”
Gerald laid out the options as entering the pro ranks through the Bassmaster College Series, or doing it his way—the hard way—as he did through the Bassmaster Opens.
“Gerald told me he’d show me the ropes, the reality of it all, and that he wasn’t going to give anything to me, that I had to earn it,” he continued. “He said it wouldn’t be easy, that I would learn more about myself, and how to become a better angler by spending more time on the water.”
At first the news was hard to bear. Trey’s mother explained that Gerald had a good reason for doing it this way. He would soon find out why.
Trey had already thought about how his father and Gerald learned the ropes. Like their farming upbringings, that was the hardscrabble way, without electronics and having to find their own fish. He recalled hearing Gerald tell stories of striking out across the country sleeping in his truck, towing an old “beater” boat, never knowing whether or not he’d get to the lake, while knowing it was game on when he did. Without hesitation Trey chose the hard way.
“I thought that was just awesome, and I told Gerald I wished to have grown up in their time,” said Trey.
“As young as I am now, I can already see how their way, the hard way, has made me a better person and angler,” he continued. “To me, the hard way is the best way in the end.”
Trial by fire came soon. Gerald called again, this time to tell Trey to pack his bags. He was going to New York for a Bassmaster Open. Twenty hours later, they arrived, took a nap, and hit the water. Gerald never let up, pushing Trey to his limit. He would learn the hard way is reality on the tournament trail.
Last fall, another phone call came. It was Gerald again, informing Trey he was accepted as a boater in the 2019 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Opens. Instead of easing in as a co-angler, Trey is fishing as a boater. In his first event—at Toledo Bend—he fished the 185,000-acre impoundment from an aluminum boat. Just recently he acquired a Triton fiberglass model in use this week at the Open on the upper Mississippi River.
Through it all, Gerald keeps a watchful eye on his nephew’s progress. Throughout the journey, the takeaway is keeping his expectations in check.
“I continually remind myself what it was like to be 19 years old, and that you can only bear so much pressure, that expectations must be kept real,” he said. “LeAnn reminds me that I have to go easy, and I get that, because when I was his age there was one distraction after another that got in the way of staying focused.”
Gerald also sees the same raw talents in Trey as he did with himself and Tony. He knows the dynamics of tournaments—such as the organized chaos of a morning launch—can be unnerving before the first cast is made. And there’s the unknown of competing on strange water.
“It’s a big step to go out on the Mississippi River, knowning how to lock and dial into fish where you’ve never been,” he said. “This week, I got him started but didn’t follow him around to make sure he didn’t get lost.”
Tough love. Some things you must learn on your own, just like handling the mental side of the game.
“I wanted him to come through the Opens, just like me, and the competition at this level is tough,” he said. “I want him to gain confidence when it comes down to going against these guys.”
Does he worry?
“I worry about him more than I do me. You want to be a good mentor, and I worry about him not getting discouraged. I want him to stay focused, keep confident.”
In the Swindle scheme of tough love, that can only mean it gets better over time.