Opens profile: Smith ascends to the top rung

With a second-place finish at Lake Hartwell for the final Bassmaster Southern Open of 2022, Californian Bryant Smith garnered enough points to claim second in that division’s Angler of the Year Standings. It also earned him an invitation to compete in the 2023 Bassmaster Elite Series, which he fully intends to do.

It was a Bass Pro Shops catalog that set Smith on the path to become one of the world’s best bass anglers. While visiting grandmother Shirley Reynolds, curiosity led the 7-year-old Smith into his grandfather’s workshop. Grandfather Jack was an avid outdoorsman who had passed before Smith met him. While in the shop, the youngster came across the catalog.

“I was flipping through the pages and immediately became fixated on all the bass lures and how it all worked,” Smith said. “I was amazed that you could catch a fish on something that wasn’t real bait.”

His fishing to that point had consisted of soaking PowerBait under bobbers for trout and panfish on small northern California reservoirs with his father, Don. The catalog prompted Smith to learn more about how to catch bass.

Later that year, his father took him bass fishing from a rented boat. While casting and winding a Luhr Jensen Speed Trap with a spinning outfit, a 3-pound largemouth assaulted his bait. As it is with many bass addicts, the impact of catching his first bass was life changing.

“Over the next nine years I learned more about it while fun fishing with my dad,” Smith said. “We would spend our weekends on the water, fishing local reservoirs and the California Delta. Every once in a while, we’d take a family vacation to Clear Lake. I wanted to learn as much about bass fishing as I could.”

His first tournament took place at age 16. By this time the family had invested in a 17-foot Skeeter bass boat. The event was a local team derby with his father. They enjoyed the experience so much they fished the tournament circuit’s entire schedule for the next two years.

“I fell in love with the tournament aspect of it,” Smith said. “I loved catching fish and loved competing. Put those two together and it was over. I was hooked for life.”

The next step in Smith’s tournament progression was teaming up with his friend David Pearl to compete in local team events. They did well enough to encourage Smith to jump into high-level, boater/co-angler tournaments when he was 19. He continued fishing these events while earning an associate’s degree in business from a community college. His tournament winnings were enough to sustain his passion for the sport.

“My parents always supported me and let me live with them after I graduated,” Smith said. “I was winning just enough to keep my dream alive. I said if I ran out of money I would go and get a real job.”

He did well enough to compete in tournaments full time, to marry Bailey, the love of his life, and to buy a house four years ago. They live in Roseville, Calif., 20 minutes north of Sacramento with their infant child, Jensen.

Although he was doing well on the West Coast, Smith knew he would have to begin fishing tournaments east of the Rocky Mountains and eventually pursue the Bassmaster Elite Series. He began commuting to tournaments in the eastern U.S. in 2019. He held his own and landed an occasional big payday but found that adapting to eastern bass waters was a learning experience.

“There’s a big difference between fishing East and West,” Smith said. “A bass is a bass, but that’s true only to a point. In California I don’t have TVA lakes, giant smallmouth like up north or blueback herring lakes.”

He learned a great deal about fishing eastern waters when he competed in the Bassmaster Central Opens, for the first time in 2020. He made money in only one of the four events, but the experience enabled him to fare better when he competed in the 2022 Southern Opens. Now that he has qualified for the Elite Series, Smith finds it odd to be at the top of the ladder.

“There has always been another stepping stone to get to the Elite Series,” Smith said. “Now that I’m here I want to see how I stack up against those guys.”

Smith’s sponsors include BUCK N’ BASS, Ranger Boats, Mercury Marine, Strike King, Lew’s Reels and Dobyns Rods.