By Todd Ceisner
BassFan Editor

While most in the field will see the Forrest Wood Cup as the conclusion of the 2019 FLW Tour season, Erik Luzak sees it as a great new beginning.

The Ontario angler, who qualified via the International Division in the FLW Series Championship last fall, is anxious to get his first taste of Cup competition this week at Lake Hamilton. More importantly, though, he’s excited about the opportunity it represents to take his fishing career to the next level.

Several years ago, FLW launched an initiative to partner with fishing organizations in other countries to sanction FLW events for the purpose of exposing more anglers to tournament opportunities. This marks the third Cup to include an angler who qualified through the International Division at the FLW Series Championship the previous year. South Korean angler Hyo Chul Kim competed in the 2017 Cup at Lake Murray and Michael Matthee of South Africa was part of the field at Lake Ouachita last year.

By being the top finisher in the International Division, Luzak not only earned a spot in the Cup, he also gained an invitation to compete as a pro on the FLW Tour in 2020. Matthee joined the Tour this year and came within a whisker of winning at Grand Lake, losing a tiebreaker to Jeremy Lawyer.

While Luzak’s path to the Cup was slightly different than others in the Cup field, he’s still grateful for the chance to compete at the highest level and doesn’t anticipate falling into the happy-to-be-here mindset.

“Because I came in a different way,” he said. “Qualifying through the Tour is a big accomplishment for the guys who’ve done it and they’ve likely made some money along the way. I made the (Cup) via two events. First, I won the Canada Cup at Bay of Quinte, then won my division at the Costa Championship and boom, I’m here. In a lot of ways, I’m looking at this as just the beginning. It’s a huge opportunity to follow my dream and fish professionally. It’s next to impossible in to do it in Canada unless you’re guiding full time. There is just not as much money available that way.

“I’m looking at it as an opportunity to change my life and get more into tournament fishing. I want to give this a crack, so the Forrest Wood Cup is more like the start of my pro fishing career.”

Got Interested Early

Luzak began fishing when he was in elementary school. His family lives in the Kawartha Lakes region northeast of Toronto and had a bowrider boat.

“My dad knew how to cast a Rapala and catch a walleye, but that’s about it,” Luzak joked. “Then I started seeing bass boats and hearing about these tournaments, so he’d take me to the weigh-ins and I got into it that way.”

Before long, he was attending boat shows and by nine years old, he owned a bait caster and taught his dad how to use it. Eventually, the family swapped out its old boat for a Bayliner Cobra, a fish/ski model that had a bow-mount trolling motor and a livewell.

He was 12 when he competed in his first youth tournament and competed in an adult tournament with his father the following year.

“We caught three fish, I learned a lot and I was addicted from that point on,” he said.

He’s continued to fish tournaments all over Ontario, collecting two Competitive Sport Fishing League (CSFL) victories along the way and logging numerous top-10 finishes against many of the top bass anglers in Canada.

Hamilton a Different Animal

Luzak, who’s 33 and works full-time as a training course director for an environmental association, said last year’s FLW Series Championship at Lake Guntersville was the first time he’d ever fished south of Lake Champlain. This past June, he made the trip to Hot Springs and spent several days at Hamilton.

What he found was a fishery unlike anything he’s familiar with in Ontario. Water temperatures were in the 90s during his visit.

“The nice thing about Guntersville is it’s a grass lake and while it’s a TVA reservoir, the fish were related to grass and that’s what I’m used to,” he said. “We have all natural lakes and grass is key. Hamilton is mostly bare, so this will be unfamiliar territory for me. Nonetheless, I feel like it’s the type of fishing where anyone can get on them because it’ll be such a grind. One big fish can change anyone’s tournament. There are some big fish in there, but I guess they shut down when it’s the middle of summer.”

One other element at Hamilton that he got a taste of during his scouting trip was how much recreational use it gets. He knows he’ll have to be aware of that come tournament time.

“It’s going to be busy and we deal with that at the cottage lakes we fish, but it’s a different world at Hamilton,” he said. “I told somebody it’s like fishing the strip in Vegas with everything that’s going on.”

He was able to catch a few bass in the 2- to 2 1/2-pound range, which will be in high demand this week.

“I caught small ones, too, but if you get on those 2s, that could be key and then hope to get a big one,” he said. “There are some incredible anglers in this field, so someone will figure them out.”

Luzak wouldn’t mind being that guy. He’s been busy trying to line up sponsor support for the 2020 season. He attended ICAST last month and began the networking process and also got to meet many of the anglers he’ll be competing against this week. He said how he was received meant a lot to him.

“This whole time, I haven’t felt like one of the 52,” he said. “I kind of came in the backdoor way, but at ICAST everyone treated me like an equal. That calmed the nerves.”

He’s heading into the Cup with aspirations, but no expectations.

“My ultimate goal is to make it to Sunday. That would be mind blowing,” he said. “When you fish the Costa Series, you always want to make the top 10. That’s harder because you’re up against 200 pros. Here, it’s 51 of the best, so the odds are a little more in your favor. I’m trying to be realistic, but I’d be ecstatic with a top 10.

“Beyond that, I’m just showing the fishing world what I can do, but also what Canadians can do. Some people I’ve chatted with are amazed we even fish for largemouth. I just want to represent myself well and represent Canada well.”