Over the past month, Bassmaster Elite Series rookie Lee Livesay’s Facebook account has been a nonstop parade of Lake Fork beauties. If you’ve followed it closely, you’ve seen one client after another landing big fish: 8-pounders, 7-pounders, but 6-pounders get put back in the drink with barely a second look. Multiple 30-pound days.
Child’s play. Easy money. Except when the money was really on the line, it wasn’t so easy.
After catching 22 pounds, 10 ounces the first day of last month’s Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest, which landed him in 10th place, he couldn’t fill out a limit on Day 2. Four fish for 8-07. He missed the cut by only a few ounces.
Sorry, no check, time to head home. Except he was home.
“I kind of saw it coming with the water going up,” he said. “Stuff happened that week that never happens, like an 11-pounder on a bed in May. It got so high in the grass that the water up near the bank got clear. I needed one group where I could catch 25 to 40 fish. I had a flurry the first day and had a chance to be in the low thirties. On the second day I got on a bad rotation, and I was lucky I caught what I did.”
If low expectations create a sort of soft bigotry, then the promise of great potential leads to a different kind of pressure. We’ve seen it before when hometown heroes struggled to gain footing under the glare of unrelenting fans. Forced to remain inside the chalk lines of a rookie season crime scene, Livesay did not pout, he did not complain, he did not cast blame on anyone else. The pressure cooker never heated up.
“I got over the hangover pretty quickly,” he said. “I wanted to go the next day. I love guiding. I love putting people on fish.”
So now that any remaining wounds have healed, and Fork’s fish are more consistently in true summertime patterns, you’d think he’d be settled in, ready to keep the guide train rolling. Once again, the rookie is not predictable.
“I’m getting bored,” he said. “It’s the same office every day. I’m ready to get out of town.” He hasn’t fallen out of love with Fork, but they need to go on a little bit of a break so he can continue an exceptional rookie season. Once the Fort Gibson tournament was postponed, he got back to guiding, but now he’s ready to move on to Guntersville, and then to the North. He’s fallen to 21st in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year race, still well inside the Classic cut, but he’s set a goal of ascending back into the top 10.
Despite the sub-expectations finish at Fork and a 62nd place result at Hartwell, Livesay’s season has featured more highs than lows. There’s a pretty good chance that his much-replayed catch at the St. John’s which required all four limbs, a rod and a dose of good luck to get into the boat, will live on the highlight reels forever, but it wasn’t even his most memorable catch of the half-finished season. That occurred on Day 2 at Winyah Bay, after he’d caught 7-11 on Day 1 to sit in 44th place.
“I ran as far as you could go, up the Cooper river and down some other creek,” he recalled. “They had me wired for Bassmaster LIVE, and I figured I was past the time I needed to leave to get back on time. They took me off Skype, and I made a last cast and caught a 5 1/2-pounder. I jumped up in the boat, strapped my stuff down, broke a rod, and made it back in time.” With that fish he’d amassed more than 17 pounds and vaulted up into third place before ultimately finishing 16th.
“That’s why I do it,” he said. “It’s been an awesome ride so far, but it’s been a blur.”
The good part of the blur is being able to ignore the bad parts, or – better yet – learn from them. Livesay could’ve been embarrassed at Fork. He could’ve tucked tail or made excuses. Instead he got back on the horse right away, showing that while a home lake misstep isn’t pretty, it’s just one day in a much longer season, which in turn is just one part of what promises to be a long career on the sport’s biggest stage.