For many of the anglers who compete in the Bassmaster Opens, their primary goal is to make it to the Bassmaster Elite Series and become a touring pro. They appreciate that the Opens provide an opportunity to fish the Bassmaster Classic, but this is secondary.
There are also anglers who fish the Opens with the singular purpose of making a dream come true by qualifying for the Classic. Casey Smith of Victor, N.Y., falls into this category.
After winning the 2022 Bassmaster Northern Open at Oneida Lake, Smith practically has a Classic berth in his pocket. If he competes in the final Northern Open on the Upper Chesapeake this week, which he fully intends to do, he will be on stage at the sport’s biggest show in 2023.
“I cannot believe that I get to fish the Classic,” Smith said. “I’m super fortunate.”
Even if Smith garners enough points to step up to the Elite Series, he will turn down the invitation. He is doing well as the operations manager for Villager Construction.
“Financially, the Elite Series doesn’t make a lot of sense for me,” Smith said.
Smith; his wife, Tiffany; and their 7-year-old son, Travis, moved into a new home they had built for them last year. Every family member enjoys fishing.
“Actually, Tiffany likes catching,” Smith said. “Fishing? Not so much.”
How does a 37-year-old angler who works full time win an Open tournament against local hot sticks, a horde of very capable young and hungry up-and-comers and a smattering of established bass pros?
Smith’s victory at Lake Oneida was hardly a stroke of luck. When he was young, Smith’s father was an avid bass angler and a member of the Barge Canal Bassmasters.
“My dad bought his first bass boat in ’89, a brand new Ranger, when I was 4 four years old. I was fishing in that boat as far back as I can remember.”
Much of that fishing was done at New York’s Cayuga Lake, as the Smith family had a cottage there. Growing up, Smith also fished from the bank, from docks and from grandfather Smith’s aluminum V-hull Sea Ray. Grandfather Smith has since passed.
Although Smith never competed in bass tournaments with his father, he did fish youth events put on by the Barge Canal Bassmasters.
“I was as hardcore as you can get,” Smith said.
Smith also had a passion for hockey. When his parents split up, his father was without a boat for several years. Smith invested all of his competitive energies into hockey. He played on his high school team and also collegiately when he attended New York’s Geneseo University.
College bass fishing teams were in their infancy then. Smith helped to get one established at Geneseo his senior year. He competed in only two of their tournaments before graduating in 2009.
“Once I was done playing college hockey, I had a huge void,” Smith said. “I had saved money working summer jobs and bought an ’89 Ranger, the same model as my dad’s boat when I was a kid.”
He joined the Rochester Bassmasters and started fishing tournaments in earnest. He was “green” starting out. He had a fair grasp of target fishing in the shallows but knew nothing about using electronics to fish offshore. He now prefers to fish offshore, particularly for smallmouth bass, which is what he did to win the Bassmaster Open at Lake Oneida.
“I learned so much from my friends in the club,” Smith said. “From a competitive standpoint they taught me how to prepare, travel and practice for a tournament.”
The club tournaments took place mainly on the Finger Lakes and other lakes in that region. Smith’s bass fishing horizon’s expanded when he began competing in New York B.A.S.S. Nation events. They took him to waters statewide and to regional and championship tournaments in other states. His out-of-state treks were to Pennsylvania’s Presque Isle Bay, Tennessee’s Douglas Lake, Louisiana’s Ouachita River and to the Connecticut River.
Smith’s success with B.A.S.S. Nation prompted him to start fishing the Northern Division of FLW in 2016. In his first season he won the initial tournament on the Potomac River, placed 32nd at the St. Lawrence River and third at Oneida. Canada’s Johnston brothers, who are now Elite Series pros, claimed the top two spots at the Oneida event.
In 2021 Smith stepped up to the Bassmaster Northern Opens. He fished the first two tournaments but didn’t get to the third due to COVID issues. After fishing the first two Northern Opens of 2022 and winning the second one at Oneida, a team of wild horses couldn’t prevent him making it to the third and final event on the Upper Chesapeake.
“I fish the Opens because the Bassmaster Classic is the ‘Big Show,’” Smith said. “For a working man to have a shot at Classic is where it’s at.”
Smith’s sponsors include Thayer’s Marine, Ranger, Mercury, Humminbird, Simms and Douglas Rods.