By Todd Ceisner
Lee Livesay is hoping to be remembered for much more than one fish catch in 2020.
While it wasn’t a final-day, last-minute boat flip out of some lily pads to win a tournament, Livesay’s clever and suspense-filled landing of a 5-pound class bass over a concrete dock on day 3 of the season opener at the St. Johns River certainly ranks as one of the highlights of Livesay’s rookie campaign as an Elite Series angler. If nothing else, it got him noticed at a time when BassFans were trying to figure out who some of the circuit’s new faces were.
“I’ve seen it about 8 million times,” he says referring to video clips of the catch, which turned into a conversation starter with fans. “People would come up to me and recognize me as ‘the dock catch guy.’”
Over the balance of the season, though, Livesay proved he was more than a one-fish wonder. The Texan finished a rock-solid 15th in the Angler of the Year points standings and second in an 18-man rookie class. He collected two top-10 finishes, including one at the St. Johns, and made the day-2 cut four other times. Even a couple months after making his last competitive cast of the year at Lake St. Clair, he still feels like the season was a blur.
“It was quick. It all happened so quick,” he said. “I feel like we just got started at the St. Johns and we’re about to get started again there. It was a good thing for me as far as learning and on the mental side and prep-wise. Everybody can catch them, but you have to be organized more because you’re gone so much.
“It couldn’t have gone any better. Sure, I could’ve won every tournament and won Angler of the Year, but I was happy with it.”
Happened So Fast
Livesay competed in the Bassmaster Central Opens in 2016-18, he says, largely in an attempt to earn a Bassmaster Classic berth, but when the call came last fall inviting him to join the Elite Series – he’d finished 16th in Central Open points – he knew he had to consider it.
“It’s like, ‘Oh, can I even do that?’” he said. “It wasn’t about catching fish. It was, ‘Can I get the money?’”
Luckily, he was able to assemble a portfolio of sponsors (mostly non-endemic companies) and in a matter of months he was touring the country as an Elite Series competitor.
“It all happened so fast I didn’t have time to sit around let it sink in,” he said.
And now, the full-time fishing guide is a full-fledged pro trying to line up additional sponsors for 2020.
“I started calling people as soon as I left St. Clair,” he said. “It never stops. If you’re not thinking about the last lake you’re thinking about the next lake or sponsorships. It’s a blur. I learned so much on the fishing side and the business side. It was a really great year. Not just for me, but for B.A.S.S. From (Rick) Clunn winning at St. Johns to the AOY chase. I wish I could’ve watched it. Carl (Jocumsen) winning at Tenkiller. You couldn’t make up some of the stuff that happened.”
Fast Start Invaluable
For Livesay, there was no greater contributor to his success this season than starting the year with two top-20 finishes. The boost of confidence he gained from a 6th-place effort at St. Johns and a 15th-place finish at Lake Lanier was immeasurable.
“It was huge for me because it was the unknown and can I compete with these guys and can I catch them above triple-A,” he said. “It was huge to have an opportunity to win at the St. Johns and stand up there with guys like Clunn and (Mark) Menendez. Then to go straight to Lanier and be one fish away from a top-10 there.
“I could tell the difference with the guys who struggled in those first two. This fishing game is so mental and it let me fish loose. I got a little money and that allowed me to fish how I naturally fish. I wasn’t worried about Clunn at St. Johns or (Paul) Mueller at Lanier. I wasn’t looking over my shoulder. When it’s going right you have a feel of when to leave or when to stay.”
He didn’t get that feeling at Lake Fork, which hosted the Texas Fest event this year. Livesay guides at Fork and was among the pre-tournament favorites. He relied on a big-bait pattern, but it didn’t materialize and he finished 39th.
“I knew 100 percent the pattern was dying and it was too late in the year for it, but I hooked three in practice and they were all 9s,” he said. “When you throw a big bait that time of year, you’re only fishing for seven or nine bites a day.”
He was 10th after day 1, but got in a bad rotation on day 2 and stayed with his big-bait game plan.
“It was just one of those days it literally never happened,” he said. “It was one of those days I should’ve changed, but I decided to shoot big. It was Texas Fest and there was a double payout. I had confidence in it and it just didn’t work. That taught me to fish the conditions no matter how much you know.”
Class In Session
Aside from Fork, Livesay had previously never made a cast at any of the venues on the 2019 schedule, so for him to rack up a top-20 points finish says a lot about his ability to adapt. There was a lot to learn and he managed to hit the mark more often than not.
“I learned more about fishing the conditions and the biggest thing was to look at the whole lake in practice,” he said. “Whether you fish it or not, you have to drive as much as you possibly can when it’s realistic.”
He wishes he would’ve done that at Lake Hartwell, where he finished a season-low 62nd. He got hung up in an area that had pre-spawners pulling up on docks. When a cold front moved through, those fish vanished while other competitors up the river had access to resident fish that weren’t as affected by the sudden temperature change.
“That was a good lesson for me right there,” he said.
He also recognized situations where a slower, more finesse-type approach might’ve produced more bites. That’s something he’ll be more willing to go to in 2020.
“Finesse fishing when I know I can power-fish,” he said. “That stupid wacky worm … I threw it at Hartwell, but I was in the wrong area of the lake. Stetson won on a wacky worm at Winyah Bay. I was swimming a jig on 65-pound braid. I see these little scenarios where there are opportunities to slow down and throw that.
“I can see at a place like Santee Cooper, where it’s usually all about big rods and big line and guys go out with 10-pound test and beat you.”