PORT ARANSAS, Texas — Going from the gridiron to competitive fishing was an easy curl route for Nick Savoie.
Savoie grew up in Cut Off, La., excelling in just about every sport while also plying the Sportsman’s Paradise waters. He played college football at LSU and reached the NFL with the New Orleans Saints. But, like a number of other athletes, he returned to fishing to keep his fire lit.
“I think the reason being is we love competing, and we love the comradery,” he said. “When you get older and when you’re done playing football or whatever sport and you just love to compete, the easiest way to compete is jump in a boat and go fishing against someone.”
In the past two decades, the 48-year-old has been one of the most successful anglers on the redfish pro circuits, winning numerous titles. He and Travis Land teamed up to fish the Yamaha Bassmaster Redfish Cup Championship presented by Skeeter in November. They had a bead on the $50,000 first prize by leading after the second day, but two teams came in with monster bags to drop them to third place.
Savoie had a blast, however, and he was quite the spectacle at a lean 6-foot-6 or so, while Land was a head shorter. Emcee Dave Mercer had fun with the team’s height disparity, calling them “Biggie and Smalls.”
“You’d be an ‘over’ if you were a redfish,” said Mercer, referring to the term of the week for fish above the 20-to-28-inch slot.
Savoie’s stature gives him an advantage in redfishing, as anglers agree having eyes higher in the sky extends their all-important vision to locate fish.
“The higher you go, the better you see. Every 6 inches, you can see 15 more feet. My partner undercuts me. He’s goes like 4-11,” Savoie joked.
His long arms came into play on Day 2 when Savoie hooked a fish on the other side of a break wall, and Land couldn’t quite reach over to net it. As if they could hear Bassmaster Redfish Live analyst Capt. Rick Murphy suggest they switch rod and net, Savoie and Land did just that, with Biggie extending his arms to easily scoop up the keeper.
Land said he likes having the big guy on his team for more than just his stature.
“Nicky is a great guy,” Land said. “We started fishing against each other about 10 or 12 years, ago. He’s a big, boisterous guy and people just flock to him. We fish well together. We learned a lot about each other fishing, and it eventually turned into us fishing together.”
Land and Savoie qualified for the Bassmaster Redfish Cup Championship as the Elite Redfish Series Team of the Year. Savoie took his job with an environmental company, where he sells equipment to shipyards for things like tank cleaning, with the agreement he can take off for about 15 tournaments a year. One year he competed in 28 tournaments, with multiple days off to scout, but knowing the fisheries has cut practice time.
“It’s expensive, but probably not as expensive as bass fishing,” he said. “That’s how they make their living. We can’t make a living redfishing. There’s not enough money. You’d have to win every week, and the competition is so close.”
Playing quarterback through high school at South Lafourche, Savoie was moved to tight end at LSU under new coach Gerry DiNardo in 1995. He scored three touchdowns during that 7-4-1 campaign, then had 15 receptions for 209 yards as the Tigers went 10-2 in 1996.
“We brought back the magic,” Savoie said of his team that included future NFL stalwarts Kevin Faulk, Alex Faneca and Todd McClure.
Drafted in the sixth round by the Saints, Savoie played in one game in 1997, hauling in one pass for 14 yards.
“I liked college more. It was just more fun,” he said. “NFL was more business. I always thought people were way overpaid, and it’s even more ridiculous now. I think it made people softer.”
A pitcher who could throw in the low 90s, Savoie was drafted out of high school by the Atlanta Braves but didn’t consider signing. “I would have loved to have had a pitching coach back them,” he said.
During his time in the NFL, Savoie earned his captains license and really dove into fishing.
“I bought me a boat and truck and every day I had off, I went fishing,” he said. “Then I started guiding.”
Guiding turned into tournament fishing, and Savoie was soon part of a contingent to be reckoned with. Much like cliques in the Elite Series, the seven anglers on their “team” shared information, and they posted enough top five finishes that rules against their consortium were instituted.
“We knew where the fish were, and they hated us,” he said. “In NASCAR, they all have multiple teams in testing. We did the same thing in fishing. We all became best of friends.”
Savoie is a friendly sort, sharing his big smile and joking around with almost anyone he meets. With a definitive Cajun accent, he’ll correct folks like Mercer that his name is pronounced Sav-Wa, as in savoir faire, which he has.
Bassmaster Elite pro Tyler Rivet, who lives not far from Savoie in Raceland, La., was the benefactor of his kindness to become a teammate of sorts. Savoie gave Rivet some advice on landing sponsorships, and now both have Walk-Ons Sports Bistreaux emblazoned across the front of their tournament jerseys.
“You go to people, and you talk to them. Me, I talk to everybody,” Savoie said. “I like to travel. I get to compete, and the people you get to meet are unbelievable.”
Asked what might have happened if he played for a northern NFL team, he recalled he and his buddies’ frequent smallmouth trips to Lake St. Clair north of Detroit.
“I would have probably been a bass fisherman,” he said. “I love smallies.”
Yeah, Savoie is the typical Louisiana sportsman, always ready to wet a line.
“We love to fish,” he said. “It don’t matter if its perch jerking or bass fishing or red fishing, we love to fish.”