(Editor's note: BassFan will observe Monday's Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, so a new top story will not appear until Tuesday.)
By Todd Ceisner
Payden Hibdon made his mind up long ago that this was going to be his path in life – fishing. It’s hard to find fault with his logic.
Since he could walk, he’s had a fishing rod in his hand and the careful guidance of two of the sport’s giants – father Dion Hibdon and grandfather Guido Hibdon – to help build the foundation for his own foray into competitive bass tournaments. When he was younger, he’d tag along on road trips and see the whole thing play out from tackle prep to the launch ramp to the arena weigh-ins.
In 2006, at the age of 14, he won the 11-14 age group Bassmaster Junior World Championship. That achievement cemented the notion in his mind that this fishing gig might actually grow legs. Two years later, he fished a Lake of the Ozarks Central EverStart and the Ft. Loudon/Tellico FLW Tour as a co-angler. He fished a handful more FLW events in 2009 and 2010 before making the jump to the pro side on the Tour level in 2011.
While he’s yet to unlock the secrets to success that his dad and grandpa have enjoyed through the years, he’s still all in and banking on a better 2013 campaign.
“This is my career plan right here,” he said. “It’s always been a thought in the back of my head. I’ve always fished for as long as I can remember. I’ve been going with dad and grandpa and just fishing all the time. When I won the Junior Bassmaster Classic, it was more of a serious thing. It went from being a hobby to possibly taking it to a profession. At that age, I was still too young to really consider it, but I think that definitely pushed me more into wanting to make it into a profession than just a hobby.”
Confident Despite Early Struggles
A quick glance at Hibdon’s results ledger from his first two seasons on Tour and one could surmise that he’s not cut out for that level of competition. In 14 Tour events, he’s made two checks and finished 100th or lower 11 times.
Still, the 21-year-old from Stover, Mo., seems undeterred and has re-dedicated himself to posting much better finishes this season.
“It was about what I expected it to be,” he said when asked to assess the quality of competition he’s up against. “The level of competition was definitely exactly what I thought it would be – it’s through the roof. There are 150 of the best guys in the world fishing the Tour and that makes it tough. It’s definitely been fun, though. I’m ready to get at this year.”
Slow starts have plagued him as he’s weighed just three day-1 limits in 12 Tour Majors.
“Not doing good the first day and catching them a little bit better the second day,” he said. “That’s always irritating for me. On the first day, I’m wanting to catch them really bad and thinking I’m making all the right moves. Then on the second day, if I hadn’t caught them the first day, I think I go out with more of an open mind and just go fishing.”
His best finishes have come at Kentucky Lake, which isn’t on the 2013 schedule. Two years ago, he placed 53rd and he was 32nd there in 2012.
“I do a lot of that style of fishing back home – fishing out deep or off of drops,” he said. “The last couple years, I’ve related to Kentucky Lake really well just because it’s my style. You can either go shallow and flip or go out deep and throw a big jig around. We do that a ton around home.”
The Hibdons are a tight-knit family and that shines through in their tournament prep. It’s a three-headed approach at each event, which Payden says is a tremendous help to him. After all, how many other young pros can say they have two past Bassmaster Classic champs to listen to or bounce ideas off of.
“With three of us fishing, it’s not very often one of us doesn’t have a little bit of something figured out,” he said. “Whether it’s just the littlest thing or it’s to the point where we have figured it out to where we think we can really catch them. If I don’t have a great practice, I’ll go off something that dad or grandpa has figured out.
“It gives me a whole new perspective on it. It’s not just me thinking about it or dad thinking about it. There’s 60-some years of knowledge that goes into that thought process. It’s some things that maybe I’d never think about. With me coming in now, maybe I’m more open to some of the new ideas or techniques that maybe they wouldn’t consider.”
“Everybody listens to everybody,” he continued. “We go at it like a team and it’s not a team if you don’t consider everybody’s part of it. There’s nothing that we don’t talk about or consider when it comes to a tournament situation. That’s definitely helpful for everybody.”
Like his father, Payden is most comfortable with a jig tied on his line, but elements of both his dad and grandfather’s styles are evident in his approach.
“Being in the boat with one or the other on different days, to hear dad say it, he says, ‘You fish just like your grandfather,’” he said. “Then, when I’m in the boat with grandpa, he’ll say, ‘Aw, you’re just like your dad out here.’ From fishing with both of them a bunch growing up, I may have a little bit of both in me.”
While most BassFans are keenly aware of his dad’s and grandfather’s accomplishments in the sport, nothing would mean more to him than to break through this season and start blazing his own trail of success.
“That would mean a bunch to me,” he said. “My granny tells it the best, I think. She says, ‘Forever, I was Guido’s wife. Then, when Dion won the Classic, I went from being Guido’s wife to being Dion’s mom. Now, with you coming up, I’m Payden’s grandma.’”
> Hibdon recently became a dad for the first time, welcoming daughter Piper to the family earlier this month. She’ll serve as extra motivation for him on the water. “I’m going to push myself to do better not just for myself, but for her,” he said.
> Asked how much longer he thinks his grandfather will continue to fish at the Tour level, Payden said, “Everybody is always asking him how much longer he has left doing this and how he answers it is probably the best way I’d know how to answer. He just says, ‘What am I going to do whenever I retire? Go fishing? I may as well stick to it as long as I’m able. I still get paid to do it every now and then.’”