Stetson Blaylock from Benton, Ark., became a bit of legend as soon as he turned pro. At the tender age of 21, and fresh off an FLW Tour Co-Angler of the Year title, Blaylock became the youngest pro ever to win an FLW Tour event, at Lake Norman in 2009.
And actually, he was a bit of a legend as soon as he started fishing tournaments, period. At the young age of 12, he and his buddy won back-to-black local events and padded their pockets with $1,000 each.
In the time since his first tour win, Blaylock has amassed over $1 million in career winnings. He spent seven more years on the FLW Tour, then graduated to the Bassmaster Elite Series in 2017. Blaylock just won his first Elite Series tournament in April on Winyah Bay, after finishing second at Lake Hartwell the week before. That was his third second place at the tour level. He also finished second on the popular Ultimate Match Fishing TV show, and second in a Bassmaster Open.
"It's great to have the recognition of being the youngest ever to win, but when I look back, if I'd have converted a few of those second-place finishes, I think my name would be a lot more recognizable today," Blaylock said.
Blaylock kindled his fishing fire like most folks: His family took him fishing at a young age.
"They'd take me to a lot of ponds, and I grew to love fishing, but one of my friends then took me to my first tournament and I just loved it," Blaylock said. "We won the tournament, and went back the very next week and won again. I was only 12, and I already had $1,000 in my pocket. I thought I had the world.
"When I was a kid, there was an old man named Tommy, and he took me under his wing. He carried me around, and we fished little club events together. He was my mentor. In my opinion, it was people like Tommy and some others who invested in me — that's what got me to the next level so quickly.
Blaylock was also home-schooled, which gave him some latitude to fish, and he finished high school earlier than most, thus he was able to hit the road fishing quite young.
"I fished every tournament I could as a co-angler," he said. "I was making enough money to live on, so I just continued to fish as much as I could, and worked a part-time job when I was back home." That campaign culminated in his winning two FLW Tour events as a co-angler (Pickwick and Beaver). Those winnings, plus an already supportive cast of sponsors, allowed him to move to the front of the boat in 2009.
"I had a lot of success early in my career, but all that time, I was fishing the Bassmaster Opens and trying to qualify for the Bassmaster Elite Series," he said. "That's really where I wanted to be. I fished four years in the Opens and missed qualifying by one or two spots every year. Finally, in 2016, I finished second in the Southern Opens points and jumped all over my invitation to the Elites."
Blaylock's fairly representative of the new-generation pro. He's flexible on the water and dynamic under pressure.
"I'm best at fishing simple, and I do that so I'm able to adjust easily and make moves on the fly that can get me a bite here or there. Those are often my really key bites.
"My favorite way to fish is offshore, but I'd also consider that my biggest weakness, because in years when we fish a lot of offshore vents, it seems like those are my slowest years."
Blaylock's first two Elite Series campaigns didn't net him any Bassmaster Classic berths or truly notable finishes. But his primary goal as he matures in the Elite Series isn't necessarily to focus on finishes. He wants to "get back to why (he's) doing this" — meaning, he wants to have fun, feel the passion and let his fishing and finishes improve as a result.
"Moving forward, I'm not going to stress about the industry and all that. We've had tremendous change the past few years, and moving forward, nobody's quite sure what the future looks like. That's why I'm going to fish simply, focus on why I'm fishing at this level, the fun, the passion, the new faces, and continue to promote bass fishing and move it in a positive direction."
Blaylock's current sponsors include Booyah! (title sponsor), Mercury, Nitro, Garmin, Quicksilver Marine Products, 13 Fishing, Seaguar, Drake Waterfowl, Realtree Fishing, Power-Pole, Bass Mafia, Cowboy Chevy-Buick-GMC of Heber Springs, Ark.