ANDERSON, S.C.– If Tyler Williams ever moves from his home state of Maine, there’s a good chance he will be moving somewhere close to Lake Hartwell.
With 16 pounds, 7 ounces of spotted bass, the 20-year-old is sitting in fourth after Day 1 of the St. Croix Bassmaster Southern Open at Lake Hartwell presented by Mossy Oak Fishing doing exactly what he does to win tournaments in his home state.
He sits just over a pound back of the leaders Shane Lineberger and Derek Lehtonen, but Williams is having the time of his life.
“This place is fun. Being from Maine, everyone assumes it is like New York,” Williams said. “But this place is the most similar fishing I have found to Maine with suspended fish and things like that. There are fish everywhere. When you see one on your LiveScope it is usually a bass. I’m doing exactly what I do at home. I am having the best time of my life. I kind of want to move here now.”
Fishing what he calls “deep” on Day 1, Williams caught everything he had in the first couple hours of the day. He spent much of the afternoon trying to relocate the kicker largemouth he found in practice and lost a big one towards the end of the day that would have helped the cause.
“It started off hot. In eight casts, I probably had 12 pounds in the boat,” he said. “I didn’t have a morning bite all week and more of an afternoon bite and it flip flopped today. I had my bag at 9 o’clock and then I fished the entire day trying to find a kicker largemouth. In practice, I caught a 5 1/2 and 7 3/4. I thought I was on them and then they turned into spotted bass.”
As far as species type, Williams doesn’t much care which one shows up for him the rest of the tournament as long as they have size to them, but the spotted bass remind him of the alewife chasing smallmouth in his home state.
“The spotted bass remind me of the smallmouth at home in the way they suspend and act weird and move fast,” Williams said. “They do some different stuff and it is a curveball for a lot of guys. We have a lot of alewife lakes and with this being a herring lake, it is similar.”
Embracing the Learning Curve
Lake Hartwell is just another lesson to learn for Williams in his young career. A former Bassmaster High School All-State representative, Williams finished 11th in the 2021 Northern Opens points race, his first crack at an Opens division, just 54 points out of an Elite Series berth.
Missing out on the Elites last year doesn’t bother him too much though.
“Last year, I wasn’t super far out of qualifying for the Elites,” Williams said. “But after fishing all nine this year, I am really happy I didn’t immediately make it in. I feel like I would have been out in two years just due to lack of experience. I think it is working in my favor.”
His first year as a full time Opens pro has been a tough one, as Williams sits in 34th-place in the overall standings. His best finish prior to Hartwell was 42nd at the Chesapeake Bay. But each tournament he takes in stride, taking what he learns at each Opens venue and perfecting it on his home lakes.
“Honestly, I go fish these Opens and it puts me in situations that I don’t get to be in at home,” he explained. “I can practice it once I know what the situation is. When I come home from an Open, I come home and practice and catch bigger fish. I win a lot of tournaments at home and a lot of it is because of what I have learned in the Opens. No one is showing me anything. They say time on the water, but time on the water in tournament lakes helps a lot.”
As an offshore LiveScope specialist, he hasn’t been able to utilize that strength much in these Opens. Instead, he has had to identify and confront the weaker parts of his game at almost every turn.
“I have fished my weaknesses every single time at an Open,” he said. “I am not a big shallow water fisherman. I am a lot better now than I was but I used to hate shallow water. I wanted to be out deep and do my thing and LiveScope. I am one of the kids, so I mean, we LiveScope fish. That is what we do.
“Pressured fish too, ” Williams added. “It’s understanding I can’t just flip to this fish that I see and have him bite it. At home, it is getting a little tougher since guys have gotten LiveScope, but it is still a lot different”
Even driving has been a learning experience. Lake Hartwell is a 23-hour drive from his house, and the journey down to Hartwell, or any lake in the southern part of the country, takes him through highways that look nothing like the back roads he is used to.
But each challenge is part of the journey to becoming a well-rounded angler and an angler that will have staying power on the Elite Series once he qualifies.
In this event, closing a tournament strong will be the focus, something he had a chance at doing during a B.A.S.S. Nation Regional at Lake Erie last year. He led after Day 2, but stumbled on the final day and finished second. This week, he wants to carry momentum through the whole event.
“I’m trying not to bomb tomorrow,” he said. “I have a history of I have one good day and then I bomb. Hopefully we will catch something tomorrow.”
As it stands around the mid-day point on Day 2, Williams shows to have a limit worth 11-0 on BassTrakk which has him inside the Top 10.