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story.lead_photo.caption Mike Capshaw/Herald-Leader Carl Svebek of Siloam Springs is one of three Arkansans in the field of 52 anglers fishing at the 2018 GEICO Bassmaster Classic on Lake Hartwell in Greenville, S.C. The biggest event in professional bass fishing runs today through Friday.

This is a moment Carl Svebek has dreamed about since he was a small child.

When he enters the Ben Secours Wellness Arena in downtown Greenville, S.C., with his theme song "Lights Come On" by Jason Aldean playing, Svebek may shed a tear.

He made it.

Svebek will ride into the arena this afternoon for the first weigh-in of the 2018 GEICO Bassmaster Classic, a three-day professional fishing tournament on Lake Hartwell. Highlights will first air on ESPN2 on March 31 and April 1, and the tournament will stream live on Bassmaster.com.

Because of a $300,000 prize along with a flood of sponsorship deals that come with the trophy, Svebek said winning the event would be a "life-changer."

"It's kind of the Super Bowl or the Masters of bass fishing," Svebek said. "They call it the million dollar tournament, but it's probably closer to the $2 million tournament now."

Svebek lives in Siloam Springs and is one of three Arkansans in the 52-person field. The others are Mike McCllellan of Bella Vista and Mark Davis of Mount Ida. Svebek's daughters, Carlie and McKenzie, graduated from Siloam Springs High School and his son, Christopher, is a freshman at the school.

"I want Siloam Springs to share this experience with me," Svebek said. "It may sound minute, but if someone is going to the Olympics that lives here or playing in the NFL, I would get excited about that. There's a lot of fishermen and outdoorsmen here. There's five or six on my street that love bass fishing.

"I want to do all I can to not just be successful for myself, I would love for the community to share in that as well. This is my opportunity to put Siloam Springs down as a great place to live."

Svebek moved to Arkansas from Texas last August, not long after qualifying for the Bassmaster Classic by winning the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open on the Sabine River in Orange, Texas. It was the first live weigh-in attended by his son, who he plans to fish with at tournaments around Northwest Arkansas in the coming months. Christopher will be Svebek's caddie at the event this week, which means he'll attend most of the events and help dad with equipment when Svebek isn't actually on the water.

Father-son moments like this remind Svebek of growing up fishing with his father, Carl Svebek Jr., in Louisiana. One trip in particular on the Toledo Bend Reservoir near the Texas-Louisiana border still stands out.

"I can remember that day when I was 7- or 8-years-old telling my dad, 'one day I'm going to fish in that Bassmasters Classic,'" Svebek said. "So I know when I pull into the Classic arena, there will be in the neighborhood of 35,000 fans in the arena and the one guy I'll think of is my dad. He was a phenomenal man who loved fishing.

"When they're playing my theme song and I'm going through that arena, I'm going to have to hold back the tears."

By the age of 9, Svebek was already fishing tournaments with his father and even joined a bass fishing club. He moved to Texas near Lake Sam Rayburn when he was a teenager and continued honing his fishing skills before heading off to play college baseball.

After graduating college, he immediately hooked a job in sales at an oil company while still "fishing every weekend. It was my life."

"I ended up having one of my customers wanting me to teach him everything I knew about fishing," Svebek said. "And in return, he wanted to pay my entry fees into the Bass Invitationals, which is what they were called back then in the mid '90s.

"I went to my boss and told him I needed six weeks off from work to fish and he fell out of his chair laughing. So, I quit. Maybe not the smartest thing I've ever done."

To make ends meet, Svebek ran a tackle shop and was a guide on Lake Sam Rayburn, taking people on guided trips between 180-200 times a year. He ended up qualifying for the Bassmaster Elite Series in his first year and began traveling to tournaments as far away as Minnesota, New York and Washington, D.C.

"With all of the traveling and being away from family, I ended up just going flat broke in 1997," Svebek said. "I said this is the worst decision I've ever made. I fished the whole year and got one check -- for the whole year. I sold my boat and everything.

"I was done."

Later that same year, the mother of one of his close friends wanted to pay Svebek's entry fee into the first EverStart Series tourney, which is now called the FLW Series. It happened to be on Lake Sam Rayburn. Because he no longer had a boat, he borrowed the one he had sold.

"Everything I did just went right," Svebek said. "I ended up winning that tournament and I think I won $70,000. By winning that tournament, I ended up qualifying for the FLW."

Within a year, Svebek kept catching fish and hauling in sponsorship deals, including one with Ranger Boats. Two of his better tournaments came on Beaver Lake, where he was "catching 75-80" bass a day and finished third and fourth in those tournaments.

"I thought, 'Man, this place is incredible,'" Svebek said. "I moved here in August and I hadn't had a day at Beaver Lake like that since those two days. I've come to the conclusion that I have live in Texas to be able to catch 'em at Beaver Lake.

"Since I moved up here, I'm lucky if I get a bream swirl."

The FLW Series was his "life" up until he got out of fishing professionally in 2009. He was on the road "so much," and just wanted to "catch up on lost time" with his family, so he was there to see his daughters through high school. He just figured fishing was something he would tell his grandchildren about because he never imagined the opportunity to get back into the sport would ever arise again.

He was mistaken.

"Two years ago, I had gotten laid off and was looking for a job," Svebek said. "A good friend of mine, David Jones, that owns Gopher Industrial invited me to come to Texas and do some work for him for like two weeks, but two weeks turned into a month, a month turned into two months and after being down in Texas for about four months, Gopher Industrial came to me and told me they wanted me to go to work for them in sales and business development.

"But they had one stipulation. I couldn't imagine what that stipulation would be but they wanted to get me back into bass fishing. They thought it would be a great opportunity to represent their company and work with their customers.

"Man, I liked to fall out of my chair when I heard that."

Gopher Industrial continues to be Svebek's title sponsor. His day job now is as branch manager for Timmons Oil Co., which has an office in Springdale, and the company also is one of his sponsors. He constantly plugs his other sponsors like Bass Pro Shops and is excited about his newest deal with Bass Forecast, an app that takes into account everything from barometric pressure to water temperature to pinpoint the optimal time to catch a fish.

Of course, Svebek will use Bass Forecast this week, but preparation for the biggest tournament of his life began shortly after qualifying last June.

"You've got to do your homework," Svebek said. "There's a mental part that plays into this game. That's something I work really hard at. It's hard to explain, but I've spent numerous nights spending up to two hours reading and looking at a visual of the lake because we are allowed to look at Google Earth. Just trying to get myself familiar with the lake as much as possible because we're not allowed to talk to anybody or anything of those sorts to get information about the lake.

"In the meantime, I want to be in a good frame of mind. I know it's going to be a lot of fun, but I'm going to try not to get too wrapped up in the hoopla. I'm going to have fun doing it, but my main objective is to go and win this guy.

"That would be a life-changer."

General News on 03/14/2018

Print Headline: Lifelong dream comes true for Siloam Springs fisherman

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