Suffolk’s bass master

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 9, 2003

Suffolk News-Herald

Anyone can walk into a supermarket and pick up a container of fish for about $3.99. But when Curt Lytle pulled up three fish at the 33rd annual Bassmaster Classic (also known as the Super Bowling of bass fishing), based out of New Orleans last Sunday, they would end up costing him roughly $10,000.

Well, sort of. When he brought the fish in for judging, they had passed on, resulting in a 1-pound, 2-ounce penalty (after fishes are weighed in such contests, they are released back into the sea). Lytle figures that the penalty pushed him from fourth to fifth place in the contest, dropping his prize five figures – all the way down to $25,000.


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&uot;It was great,&uot; said Lytle, who finished the event with a 15-fish total that weighed in at 31 pound, 3 ounces (6 pounds, 8 ounces behind winner Michael Iaconelli of New Jersey). It was a huge step forward for Lytle’s Bassmaster &uot;finishings;&uot; in two previous outings, he’d come in at 39th and 32nd.

&uot;I always had a knack for finding fish,&uot; said Lytle, who became a professional fisherman in Sept. 1997 after leaving his job as a Norfolk Naval Shipyard mechanical engineer, a field in which he holds a degree. &uot;Anybody can catch a fish, but the winners find the ones that other people overlook.&uot;

To qualify for the tournament, held by the Bass Anglers Sportsmen Society (BASS, aptly), Lytle spent the fishing season competing in 10 tour events from California to Texas.

&uot;I always do really well in Arkansas and Missouri, but I have no idea why!&uot; he said with a laugh. By finishing 33rd out of 175 pros, he earned a Bassmasters berth.

Lytle started off the tournament at a disadvantage that stuck with him throughout; he had to boat nearly 100 miles to the Venice area of the Mississippi River, cutting his fishing time down to about four hours a day. &uot;It was like having to drive my boat from (Suffolk) to Washington, D.C. every day,&uot; he said. During the event, sheepshead and red drum kept biting his artificial bait (required by tournament rules).

But he persevered, and bolstered both his bank account and sponsorship interest; so far, companies such as Yamaha Boat Motors, Ranger Boats, and fishing line distributor Berkley have already signed him to endorse their products. Even ESPN cashed in; during the telecast of the tournament (on which Lytle was prominently featured), ratings for the event rose nearly 40 percent from the year before.

&uot;It’s a weird lifestyle,&uot; he said, describing the common routine of a pro fisherman. &uot;Why would someone leave engineering to gamble on their chances becoming a pro athlete? For me, it was chasing a dream. My goal was to make it for a year, maybe two. Now it’s six years later, and I’m doing pretty good. I’m looking forward to more craziness and more sponsors!&uot;