HORSESHOE BAY — As the first-day totals rolled in Oct. 3 during the EverStart Series-Texas tournament on Sam Rayburn Reservoir outside Lufkin, Horseshoe Bay fishing guide and angler Brandon Bray knew he had his work cut out for him the next day.
“I wasn’t in a good position,” he said.
Bray landed two fish for a three-pound, 14-ounce total, putting him in 39th place. He had to turn things around if he wanted to earn a spot in the third day of the competition.
“You have to finish in the top 10 after the first two days in order to fish the third,” Bray said. And the third day determines who goes home with the big prizes.
On the second day, Bray nailed it.
He landed five largemouth bass for a total of 11 pounds and two ounces for a two-day total of 15 pounds. It secured him a spot in day No. 3, when he again landed five fish, this time for 11 pounds and six ounces.
The third-day mark earned him first place in the co-angler division of the tournament and a new Ranger Z117 boat with a 90-horsepower motor valued at more than $27,000.
“It felt incredible,” he said. “I finished in the top eight for the year in my division, so next year, I got invited for the next FLW series.”
That invitation could earn Bray a career as a tournament angler as the FLW series is one of the top professional bass angling tours in the country.
Bray, who hails from the Highland Lakes, grew up fishing on Lake LBJ but fell away from angling for a period of his life. A few years ago, Bray again felt the pull of the sport and began focusing on it as a career in more ways than one. His father, Joe Bray, has been a fishing guide on the Highland Lakes, particularly Lake LBJ, for more than three decades. He started Bray’s Fishing Guide Service, which serves Horseshoe Bay.
Brandon Bray began guiding alongside his father about five or six years ago but took over the operation this past year.
A competitive person by nature, he quickly found his way into the tournament circuit.
The Sam Rayburn event was his fourth in the EverStart Series-Texas Division this year. During tournaments, he competed as a co-angler, meaning he shared the boat with a professional angler.
The professional angler, however, controls the boat and stands at the front so he (or she) can set up the craft for his or her benefit. Sometimes, this worked against Bray, especially if the pro put the front straight into the best spots and left him to fish less desirable locations.
But if, as in the second and third days of the Sam Rayburn tournament, the professional set up the boat so Bray also could take advantage of the best spots, it worked out well for him.
To keep things fairer for co-anglers, tournament officials rotate them among different professionals each day of the tournament.
“One of the things I like about fishing with different pros is you get to learn from each of them,” Bray said.
While this year’s circuit kept him in Texas, Bray will add some miles on his vehicle when he moves up to fish the co-angler spot on the FLW Tour. The tour includes stops at Lake Okeechobee in Florida, Lake Hartwell in South Carolina, Beaver Lake in Arkansas, Pickwick Lake in Alabama and Kentucky Lake-Paris Landing in Tennessee. And there is a return trip to Sam Rayburn Reservoir.
“Next year, I figured it up, and it looks like just driving to and from all the events is about 10,000 miles,” Bray said.
He hopes to sell the boat he won (he actually received a certificate for one) at the October tournament and use the cash to help cover tournament expenses next year.
On top of all the guiding and tournaments, Bray and his father even landed a gig on a promotional video for a new lure company: Livingston Lures of San Antonio. The company makes a lure that uses electronics to emit a sound that mimics injured baitfish.
“They shot probably 90 percent of the video on Lake LBJ, so people will recognize a lot of the places,” Bray said.
It’s a busy lifestyle, between the guiding, competing and just fishing, but Bray looks forward to each day.
“I love it,” he said. “The last five or six years I’ve been hitting it hard, and I’ve learned so much. Hopefully, if things go right, I’ll be able to make a career as a professional (bass angler).”
Call (512) 796-9917 to book a trip with Bray’s Fishing Guide Service. Go to www.flwoutdoors.com for more information on the tournament series.