Ask Caleb Sumrall about lessons garnered through his years of fishing local events in Southern Louisiana and he’ll tell you he learned to take a confident, peaceful approach to competition.
“If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be,” he says.
Suffice it to say, the 31-year-old from New Iberia was meant to be a Bassmaster Elite Series competitor.
Indulge us with a little background to set up his triumphant tale.
The early years saw Sumrall latching onto the fishing interests, thanks to a double dose of generational investment.
“My dad, Steve Sumrall, and my grandfather, Ken Delcambre, took me fishing when I was a kid,” he said. “Dad was more of crappie angler, but I was always bass fishing behind him. My granddad was more of a bass angler.”
Sumrall considers flipping his signature technique, and in May of 2016, sending a Missile Baits D Bomb into shallow cover at Toledo Bend Reservoir rewarded him with his personal best 9.89-pound largemouth.
“My dad and granddad gave me the love of fishing, but I got away from it for a long time,” Sumrall said. “I started playing golf in high school and started working and then started a family with my wife, Jaci.”
Later, a 25-year-old Sumrall followed his buddies’ encouragement to start fishing local tournaments and then B.A.S.S. Nation events. That decision put him on a path of opportunity that many can only dream of.
Make or break
Cue the dramatic music.
Since his high school graduation, Sumrall had been working full time for an oil field service company out of Port Fourchon. That solidity enabled him to embrace his tournament fishing pursuits and even expand into the Bassmaster Opens in 2016.
But change was coming — a crossroads moment with two very different outcomes.
When Sumrall qualified for the 2017 Academy Sports + Outdoors B.A.S.S. Nation Championship presented by Magellan Outdoors on South Carolina’s Lake Hartwell, it brought a ray of hope in a tough year. How tough? Two months before the event, he was laid off from the only job he’d known for a dozen years.
With a 5-year-old daughter, Clelie, and son, Axel, on the way, Sumrall knew this championship event presented an all-or-nothing opportunity. For him, it was less about chasing dreams than it was about taking care of the ones he held dear.
“Going into the (Championship), I knew the only opportunity to continue fishing I was going to have was to win,” he said. “I was all in. Second place — I had to go back to work; possibly sell my boat. There would be no way for me to continue to fish the Opens and support my family, so I knew it was either win or nothing.”
Talk about your life-changing moments. Oct. 21, 2017 saw an angler on the verge of shelving his tournament career surge across the finish line by a 2-pound margin and complete his most significant achievement on the water.
For his win, Sumrall received a Skeeter ZX200 rigged with Yamaha SHO 200 outboard, Minn Kota trolling motor and Lowrance electronics, an Elite Series invitation, $16,000 for Elite entry fees, paid entry fees in the Bass Pro Shops Central Opens and the one-year use of a fully rigged Phoenix Boat and Toyota Tundra. His Championship qualification had already earned him a 2018 Classic berth.
“That was the perfect story of one door closing and another door opening,” Sumrall said.
Understandably, it took time for Sumrall to mentally frame the impacts of his win. After the elation settled, a stark reality loomed.
“So many things were going through my head, like where was I going to get the money (for the remainder of my Elite Series expenses),” Sumrall recalls. “It was so late in the year, sponsorship support didn’t really come that quickly. I funded a lot of it myself, but I had a lot of help from people in my hometown.”
Also, fellow Elite angler John Crews’ Missile Baits had sponsored Sumrall from the beginning of his B.A.S.S. Nation days. Crews not only stepped up his support, but has provided invaluable guidance and example for a talented upstart with a willingness to improve.
In 2018, Sumrall finished in the money nine times — four times on the Elite Series (including a 13th place at Lake Oahe), four in the Bassmaster Opens (including ninth at the Championship on Table Rock) and his Classic debut.
Lessons were many, but he welcomed them all.
“I had only been tournament fishing five years before qualifying for the 2018 Elite season, so there was so much that I did not know,” Sumrall admits. “I learned a lesson in every single event. I’ve had some missed opportunities with individual fish that probably kept me out of three checks. I think the total weight (I was short) for cashing three more checks was 3 pounds, 11 ounces.
“That’s a big lick, but outside of that, I wish I could go back and fish each event with a little more knowledge than I had when I went into it.”
Those were hard pills to swallow. But Sumrall has analyzed those shortfall moments, and he’s determined to tackle the 2019 season with an ongoing desire to learn.
For example, he knows that the shallow largemouth game in which he excels won’t sustain him throughout an entire Elite season. So he’s intent on sharpening his smallmouth and spotted bass skills.
Of the mental game, Sumrall says this: “I have to trust my decisions and not get spun out. If I make a move, I have to trust that I made a decision for a reason. I can’t say ‘I should’ve stayed where I was.’ I have to settle down and commit to my decisions.”
Could Caleb Sumrall’s B.A.S.S. Nation trophy end up with a big blue piece of Elite Series hardware for a neighbor?
Maybe — if it’s meant to be.