A crucial fourth and final mid-September tournament will determine whether a local man is invited to join the Bassmaster Elite Series professional fishing tour next season.
Currently, 28-year-old Mike Huff sits in tenth place in the eastern division Bassmaster Open tour. He finished “in the money” in a recent fishing tournament on Lake Champlain, on New York’s Adirondack Coast near the Canadian border.
“There were 200 boats in it and they pay out to the top 40. I came in 28th,” Huff said. “I practiced for a good week before that tournament. It took three or four days to sort of figure the lake out, but I really didn’t know too much about it before I got there.”
For Huff — whose father, Rex, is a lifetime fisherman who currently fishes on the Fishing League Worldwide tour — this year represents his best shot of being a full time pro fisherman on the Bassmaster Elite Series tour. Two years ago he finished 25th, and last year was 30th overall in the standings.
“My dad taught me everything about fishing,” Huff said.
In the Bassmaster Elite Series, the bottom 10 fishermen are relegated each year to lower ranks, while the top five fishermen in the Central and East divisions of the Open series get to join the top ranks.
Going into the final tournament of the qualifiers, Huff thinks he may have a significant advantage since it is being held on Douglas Lake near Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg, Tenn.
“That’s just right down the road for me, so I definitely get a lot of practice there,” Huff said.
“So much of this is about the work you put in before the tournament,” He added. “It’s definitely not just going out there and expecting to catch fish. You really have to work if you want to do good because there are so many fishermen out there.”
Doing well requires online research to learn what baits work best for certain times of year. Also, exploring the lake and finding good fishing spots in days leading up to a tournament are crucial. Technology, and its effective use, can be critical too.
“It’s amazing with the depth finders the technology they have now,” Huff said.
Huff is a graduate of Corbin High School. He never got to participate on the school’s bass fishing team because it started right after his graduation. He was on the fishing team at Georgetown College, however. He, along with two of his first cousins, provided the nucleus of the team.
“We qualified for the [NAIA] national championship every year and came in the top 10 three times,” Huff said. “We never won, but we were always close.”
When traveling cross-country to fish in tournaments, Huff said sponsorships are crucial. He is currently sponsored by Forcht Bank. Bank founder Terry E. Forcht was close personal friends with Huff’s grandfather, Dave Huff, who recently passed away.
Forcht was Huff’s neighbor growing up.
“I know what a good person he is, so I just asked him if he would sponsor me on the tour. He was all for it,” Huff said. “I told him I was going to work just as hard as he did to be successful. You really can’t do this without sponsors and Mr. Forcht has been a great one.”
The final tournament in the eastern division Bassmaster Open will be held Sept. 14-15.