UPCOMING EVENT: TOYOTA SERIES - 2020 - Lake Eufaula

Hill reaches co-angler pinnacle

Hill reaches co-angler pinnacle
Fred Hill of Roxboro, N.C., was named the 2002 Wal-Mart FLW Tour's Co-angler of the Year.

Co-angler of the Year aims to peak as professional

Now that Fred Hill has reached the apex of achievement for a co-angler on the FLW Tour, he has set his sights on the pinnacle of professional bass fishing.

Hill's ascension

Hill was named the Wal-Mart FLW Tour's 2002 Co-angler of the Year after amassing the most tournament points (979) by the end of the regular season, which concluded at the Forrest Wood Open on New York's Lake Champlain in late June.

At home in Roxboro, N.C., when he's not on the tournament trail, Hill has been climbing steadily toward the top of the FLW Tour since he first began fishing it in 1999. He sat 74th among FLW Tour co-anglers after his first season, jumped to 26th place by the following season's end and landed a fourth-place ranking at the close of the 2001 season.

Hill's impressive top-10 performance last year qualified him to fish as an FLW Tour pro this year. However, Hill said he wanted to finish the tour as the points leader before switching gears. Having attained that goal in 2002, he intends to raise the bar for himself.

"All my goals have been set based on the points award," he said, "with the ultimate goal of being able to fish the pro side. I don't know how I'm going to do that financially, but that's where I'm headed."

Hill has established a solid legacy as one of the most toasted co-anglers to fish in FLW Outdoors tournaments. In addition to his success with the FLW Tour, he finished the 2000 season as the highest-ranking co-angler in the EverStart Series Central Division, and he has accumulated 14 top-10 finishes among FLW, EverStart and Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League tournaments.

Though he has fished some BFL and EverStart tournaments as a pro, Hill truly enjoys the co-angling experience - one he characterized as "a full-fledged competition."

"You've got 20 guys (the number of co-angler finalists in an FLW tournament) that you've got to fish tough and consistently against," Hill said.

The co-angling competition on the FLW Tour is tough, and Hill said it isn't always easy to angle with at least some independence while allowing a pro to carry out his own fishing plans.

"To me, it's the most challenging game there is," he said.

Hill roots for Hoot

Hill cited several co-anglers who have earned reputations as superior fishermen, but none have pushed the Co-angler of the Year as hard as W.D. "Hoot" Gibson. Gibson had a commanding lead in the FLW co-angler points race going into the final regular-season competition, but was sidelined by a heart attack before the Forrest Wood Open.

"Hoot Gibson and I have been in competition going all the way back to the EverStart points race," Hill said. "I don't want anybody to beat him except me."

Gibson finished just behind Hill in the 2000 EverStart Central Division, coming in second. When Gibson ended the 1999 season of the same division in first place, Hill had grabbed onto a second-place finish in the EverStart Eastern Division the same year. They both finished last year's FLW Tour season with top-10 rankings, and Gibson just missed the top 10 this year in 11th place despite missing the final tournament.

"That's certainly not the way I wanted to beat him," Hill said. "He's the most fun guy to fish with in the world.

"I pray for him all the time to get well. Hoot is just absolutely one of the best fisherman I've ever known," he said.

But Hill added that he is not one to question fate, and he is grateful that a strong year's worth of fishing ended up netting him his points-leader goal. There are several factors that have contributed to his success as a fisherman.

Behind every great fisherman ...

Though Hill, 52, has been fishing since he was a child, he didn't hit the tournament trail until the late `90s after retiring at 49 from a lifelong career with AT&T. He said his wife was a pivotal part of making the decision to angle full time. Another family member, Hill's brother, actually got him started along that path when he entered Hill in a BFL tourney in 1996. His first true tournament yielded his first top-10 finish.

Hill credits a close friend with helping him hone his bass-fishing craft. With a name like Steve Lakey, it's no wonder Hill hit it off with the musical minister at his church years ago. It didn't take the two men long to find out they had more in common than the same parish.

Hill said Lakey taught him how to angle with a spinning rod - a tactic that has served Hill well when he has found himself in the clutch at various tournaments.

"If it hadn't of been for him, I don't know if I'd ever been able to fish deep water with light tackle," Hill said of Lakey.

Hill said he hasn't second-guessed his decision to commit to the tournament trail.

"This is what I do for a living," he said. "This is what I do for a career."

`Don'ts' of co-angling do well for Hill

Hill's philosophy of co-angling can almost be distilled into a few "don'ts" that have added up to a lot of bass reeled into the back of the boat.

"I don't try to catch the pro's fish, and I don't fish on top of them," Hill said.

According to Hill, he "follows that secondary bite" instead of fishing behind a pro. He will explore different methods than those being employed by his boater, not only to stay off the pro's fish but because it frequently leads Hill to his own, fresh supply of bass. In other words, if the pro zigs, Hill will likely zag.

"If he's fishing fast, I'll try to fish slow ... I'll be doing something different," he said. "If I'm not flipping in on the same stuff he is, I'm not catching his fish."

Hill said not "fighting over water with a pro" allows him to devote himself to angling.

"I can be focused on fishing," he said.

Adaptability is an important quality for a co-angler to possess, Hill said. For example, some pros like to talk a lot when they fish while others prefer solitude, and each pro has a slightly different approach to bass hunting.

He said: "There's all kinds of extremes. Sometimes I just get in the zone back there, and I don't even notice the pro is there."

Hill said he tries to maintain a simple stock of tackle and gear as well as a pared-down approach to fishing so he can more easily adapt to any circumstance. Though he avoids duplicating a pro's methods while they are fishing together, there is something to be learned from each one.

"I haven't ever had a bad draw," he said. "I love fishing with all the pros."

Hill also doesn't fill his head with other people's opinions on how to best bring the bass bite. He cited the 2000 BFL Lake Seminole Regional as an example. Other anglers told Hill he would only need his "big stick with heavy line" to tap the bass population in the lake. Hill instead chose to travel up a river to "pristine, clear water" where he scored big in moving water with a small spinning rod and light line. He landed lots of bass and a sixth-place finish.

"I don't listen to much boat talk," he said.

Hill prepares for championship, next season

Though Hill is looking forward to a future as a professional bass angler, he is still focused on the remainder of his co-angling season. He will compete among the 48 most successful FLW Tour co-anglers at the championship on Cross Lake in Louisiana Sept. 11-14.

Hill predicts a stingy bite. However, that hasn't dimmed his outlook on the championship experience nor has it weakened his resolve to go for broke in his final FLW fishing tournament as a co-angler. Part of Hill's motivation is inspired by the fact that he wants to win a new boat he can use next year.

"I've got to win that tournament to get to where I'm going," he said. "Am I going down there to win? That's exactly what I'm going to do."

When Hill's consistent performance during the 2002 FLW Tour season is considered, such an attitude hardly seems out of context.

"That's the same attitude I usually have at every one of these tournaments, though," he said with a laugh. "It's a different ballgame (in the back of the boat), and I absolutely love it."

Though Hill said he will miss fishing as a co-angler, he is looking forward to facing new challenges as an FLW Tour pro. His attitude as well as his record reflects that he appears to be ready for the big time.

"I'm 52 years old," Hill said. "If you're going to the Super Bowl, you better just get up and go. I've got to catch some fish."

Hill hails fishing for inclusiveness

Bass fishing has taken Hill to the top of a tournament trail, offered him a new career and challenged his ability to achieve. But it's something else that Hill loves about angling.

"This is the most evenly played game there is," he said. "I'm way past the point of being an athlete, but out on that lake, the bass don't care about your age or your weight or your color or your sex. If you can catch the fish, that's the only rule out there.

"It's so inclusive ... you can be yourself," he said. "Everyone starts out the same."

Link:

Master co-angler aims for 2003
2002 Wal-Mart FLW Tour co-angler year in review

Tags: patrick-baker  article 

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