TULSA, Okla. – As the youngest angler in this year’s Bassmaster Classic, University of Minnesota angler Trevor Lo has little institutional knowledge of the sport. Mark Davis likely has socks older than Lo, who will turn 22 in June, and the ever-young Kevin VanDam had competed in three Classics before Lo was born.
Asked if he shaves every day, the 2015 Carhartt College National Champion pointed to his bare chin and said, “I’ve been growing this for 21 years.”
Neverthless, his arrival on the sport’s biggest stage represents another landmark in the history of professional tournament fishing, the first time that a member of his ethnic group – the Hmong – has competed in the Classic. In 1983, Alfred Williams of Mississippi became the first African-American angler to compete in the Classic. In 1997, Toshinahi Namiki became the first Japanese angler to earn a Classic berth, and seven years later his countryman Takahiro Omori became the first non-native of the United States to win the title. This week, Charles Sim will become the second Canadian to represent his country south of their border.
But Lo will be the first Hmong among the field.
The Hmong are an ethnic group mostly from the mountainous regions of China and nearby countries like Vietnam and Thailand. They established a presence in Laos, homeland of Lo’s parents, in the 18th Century.
While he may be the first to fish a Classic, anyone with an understanding of Hmong history and traditions will understand that his presence is not as unlikely as it might seem to uninformed outsiders.
“In Hmong culture, we love the outdoors,” Lo said. “Fishing, hunting and farming. And as our community is becoming more Americanized, bass fishing is taking off in the Hmong community. It’s not so much for catching food anymore.”
Lo’s parents were part of a large wave of refugees who left Laos in the wake of the Vietnam War. They fled to Thailand, then were sponsored to move to the United States. They ended up in Minnesota’s Twin Cities, which has the highest density of Hmong in the country. Wisconsin also has a substantial population of them, as does California. Coincidentally, Tulsa, site of this week’s Classic, also has a sizeable Hmong contingent, with estimates of their numbers typically ranging between 4,000 and 5,000. Most came here for the opportunities to work in agriculture.
Much has been made this week of the fact that this is Lo’s twelfth tournament. That’s not twelve with B.A.S.S. or twelve in college – it’s twelve total – he doesn’t have first-hand knowledge of much of the sport’s history. “I just started really following it five or six years ago,” he said. “I’d seen it as a kid, but I was never the kind of kid to sit and watch TV a lot. I’d rather be outside.” Nevertheless, he’s aware that most of his competition has had a far longer road.
“I know that these guys worked hard to get where they are,” he said. “They work for it and most of them have been doing it a long time. I can’t expect to have what they have.” On the flip side, however, he likely won’t have a flotilla of spectator boats, excessive nightly obligations or expectations from the fans. He has also worked to temper the pressure he feels both as a representative of the college ranks and of the Hmong people.
“Because I’m the first, for a long time I felt a lot of pressure to do really well,” he explained. “But over time I’ve realized that the Hmong community will support me no matter how I finish. For God to choose me and bless me with this opportunity is something that I’m extremely thankful for.”