By winning the final Bassmaster Southern Open of 2022 at Lake Hartwell, Tennessean Tristan McCormick qualified for his second Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic, which will take place on the Tennessee River in March of 2023. Last year he earned a berth to his first Classic by winning the Bassmaster College Classic Bracket on the Coosa River as a Bethel University angler.
The prizes for his collegiate victory included $7,500, paid entry fees into all 2022 Bassmaster Opens and the use of a fully-rigged Nitro Z20 and a Toyota Tundra.
McCormick didn’t learn about tournament bass fishing until he was a freshman at Dickson County High School in Dickson, Tenn. As a tad, he would fish farm ponds for “anything that would bite” with grandfather Keith Mountain.
“My parents know nothing about fishing,” McCormick said.
What his parents did know something about was raising quarter horses and competing in United States Team Penning Association (USTPA) events. They had McCormick riding quarter horses “as soon as I could walk.” At age 6 he was the number one rider in the novice division of the USTPA. At 15, he was one of the top riders in country with world championship trophies to prove it.
The essence of USTPA events is that three riders must separate three specific cattle from a herd of 30 and pin them on the opposite side of the arena away from the rest of the herd. This must be done in less than 60 seconds. These events took McCormick to 46 states, Canada and Mexico by age 11.
“I quit riding when I was 15,” McCormick said. “I just got burned out on it.”
After a four-year stint in Oklahoma, he moved back to Tennessee and enrolled at Dickson County High School as a freshman. The school has a bass fishing team. He knew nothing about bass tournaments, but he joined the team simply because he liked to fish. When he went to his first meeting, he found that one of his friends, Cody Thorton, was already a member. They immediately became team members.
Their first tournament was at Kentucky Lake in a boat with a designated adult driver. McCormick discovered that fun fishing and tournament fishing are worlds apart.
“It was my first time in a bass boat,” McCormick said. “Everything about it was amazing. It was insane!”
He means insane in a good way. The young anglers caught more than 20 keeper bass on Strike King Sexy Dawg walking topwater baits and finished third. McCormick was far more deeply hooked than any of the bass he caught that day.
Most of the high school’s tournaments took place on Kentucky Lake with a few on Old Hickory. When he was old enough to drive he began competing in local pot derbies and regional money events. He fished the larger events “to get my feet wet for college tournaments.”
As a high school senior he finished second at a regional tournament on Kentucky Lake. This is where he met Gary Mason who coaches the bass team for Bethel University, one of the top collegiate fishing teams in the country.
“He invited me to come and fish for him,” McCormick said.
McCormick wisely accepted and went on to have a stellar college fishing career. Besides winning the Bassmaster Classic College Bracket in 2021 he notched a second-place finish in the Bassmaster College National Championship and had many other top 10 finishes.
The collegiate events took McCormick to bass waters that ranged from river-run lakes to deep, rocky highland reservoirs. These experiences forced him to adopt new techniques and hone his mental game.
“The main thing I learned is to be versatile and not get stuck on one or two things,” McCormick said. “That’s hard to do, and I still struggle with it sometimes. When I have a good practice with a couple of baits it’s hard to switch to something else.”
His angling preferences have evolved to fishing offshore. He admitted to feeling naked without electronics, and he hates fishing the bank. His primary goal is to qualify for the Elite Series.
“I want one of those blue trophies and a Classic trophy bad,” he said. “Of course, I want to fish professionally for the rest of my life. I intend to keep doing this until I can’t walk or stand on the front deck.”
McCormick’s sponsors include Toyota, Dynamic Sponsorships, Costa, Strike King, Lew’s, Mercury Marine, Humminbird, BassReaper Baits, 1st Contact Tungsten, Boatlogix, Sea Clear Power, ACG Conveyer, Clark Marine, Eternal Lithium, Minn Kota, Caymas Boats, Ashmore Marine Products and Buzbe Fishing.