By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Bryant Smith's primary competitive focus for 2022 was on the National Professional Fishing League (NPFL). The 31-year-old from California had a solid year on that circuit, finishing 5th in the final Angler of the Year (AOY) standings.
He competed in the Bassmaster Southern Opens to, in his words, "just keep the dream alive." That dream was to qualify for the Elite Series and eventually earn his way into the Bassmaster Classic.
"Fishing just one division (of the Opens), you have to have three really good tournaments," he said. "It was just my year."
With finishes of 26th (Kissimmee Chain), 23rd (Cherokee Lake) and 2nd (Lake Hartwell), Smith ended up 2nd in the Southern points race, which earned him an Elite Series slot for next year. He's eagerly anticipating the start of the campaign, which gets under way in February at Lake Okeechobee.
"I know I'm going to get there and have big eyes, like 'wow, I'm actually here,''' he said. "I'll just have to make sure I keep my head in the game and fish my own program. I'm only fishing against the fish and it doesn't matter who I'm fishing against. I'll try to develop a solid game plan and stick to it."
Done Well Everywhere
With the exception of a bit of guiding, Smith has done little other than fish competitively for more than a decade. He won the Clear Lake Western Toyota Series event in 2017 and is a two-time Wild West Bass Tour championship winner.
He's a lifelong Californian and is proficient with the finesse tactics that are prevalent in that state, but his preferred mode is power-fishing.
"If I can grab a Strike King Thunder Cricket and go down a grassline or throw a spinnerbait around wood, that's what I like best, but I feel like I'm pretty versatile," he said. "I'm comfortable with either 6-pound fluorocarbon or 65-pound braid.
"I'm just really excited to get it going. Getting to the top level, I've always wondered how I would do competing against those guys and I'll get my chance next year."
NPFL Experience Helped
Last year was Smith's second foray into the Opens. He competed in the Central Division in 2020 and did okay for the most part, but couldn't recover from a 167th-place showing at the Arkansas River in his initial outing. Prior to that, he'd had very little experience outside his home region.
"That didn't go very well," he said. "I was still trying to fish as much as I could in the West and I was stretched pretty thin – for some of the Opens I only had one day of practice and I really wasn't used to fishing back East.
"I got a lot more comfortable with that fishing the NPFL the last couple of years. It had a big impact on why I qualified (for the Elite Series)."
He became a father for the first time in September when wife Bailey gave birth to son Jensen. He'll spend a lot of time away from them next year, sleeping in the back of his truck at Elite events, but he's prepared for that hardship.
"They'll be able to fly out for a couple of tournaments, but most of the time it's going to be just me. Being from California and fishing back East the last couple years, I've been gone for extended periods of time, but I'll fly back as much as I can."
> Folsom Lake is technically Smith's home waters, but Clear Lake is his favorite venue in his home region, even though it hasn't fished well this year. "I think the biggest thing is people haven't adjusted to the lower water," he said. "The fish are still there, but it's a little different now."
> He said he still has some work to do in regard to sponsorships for next year, but things have gone pretty well in that regard. "This is the first time I've really put a lot of effort into that and it's been a big learning experience. The business side is so important and I've really been trying to focus on that side, but I'm going to have to get myself back into fishing shape pretty soon."