Having spent his life bettering his skills, Helton has been a Walmart FLW Tour qualifier for the past two years.
“My dad started me fishing as a kid, but as far as tournament fishing I started in the 70’s. I moved here from Virginia, graduated high school in 1975 and started in the tournaments. I began fishing various FLW tournaments in 2000, so it’s been 14 years now,” Helton explained. “I qualified to fish in the FLW Tour for the past two years. You have to finish in the top 10 in the Rayovac FLW Series to do that. It’s a pretty prestigious accomplishment to make that; the only thing is that it’s pretty expensive.”
Over the years, Helton has worked his way up in the angling world to reach his current level.
The Charleston native has been in 122 pro tournaments and has $39,000 in career earnings, with 20 top 10 finishes an 1 career win under his belt.
The 57-year-old bass fisher spent 20 years with M&M Mars before retiring at the age of 50.
“I started out with the Cleveland Bass Masters, then fished with M&M Mars Fishing Club while I worked there. Now I’m in the BFL, Rayovac and FLW Tour,” Helton stated.
Helton is currently a custom Jeweler at Epperson Inc., a position that he had held once before.
“Armen and Ellen Epperson were gracious enough to let me come back and work when I could and fish when I could. Without them working with my schedule, I wouldn’t be able to do this,” Helton commented.
The experienced bass fisher finished seventh in the Southeast Division of the Rayovac Series for the 2014 season with 504 points, which was only 37 points behind the lead angler.
“This year I got to fish the All-American, which you have to finish top six in your region or top six in the wildcard to qualify for. It was on Lake Wilson in the second week of June. My next big event is the Rayovac Championship on Lake Wheeler in Alabama,” Helton said.
One aspect of angling that Helton has had to come to terms with is the amount of money that must be invested.
“To fish the tour, which begins in March 2015, you have to come up with a good deal of money up front in mid-November,” Helton explained. “It’s $4,000 to enter, but it’s an opportunity to win $125,000. Sixtieth place pays about $10,000, so it’s a real good payback. If you can do that in six tournaments, that’s $60,000 in a year. To be eligible for the Rayovac Series and the FLW Tour, your boat has to be a 2011 or newer. Mine was an ‘07, so I just bought a new boat.”
Helton fishes in a Ranger 521 C with a Mercury 250 engine, which he got from Curtis Bunch at Bunch Marine in Harriman.
Don Ledford is one of Helton’s main sponsors and is where he got his tow vehicle from.
“Some young guys will actually go out on a credit card to get started and bury themselves in debt if they don’t make it. I couldn’t do that. You have to accept a thousand nos to get one yes,” Helton stated. “I’m going to fish the Rayovac, which is a little less expensive because they have three tournaments. If I get the opportunity to fish the tour, then I may not fish the Rayovac, because the tour is six tournaments, which requires me to take of a week for each tournament. Once you sign up for the tour, you have to fish all the tournaments.”
Out of all of the tournaments that Helton has fished in, there is one in particular that stood out from the rest.
“Any tournament that you finish in the top 10 is good, but one that really stands out is when I fished as a co-angler. What they do is, that you are either a boater or a co-angler and they draw you a partner in the event so you don’t know who the guy is before the tournament,” Helton reflected. “The year after my dad had passed away, my brother and I were both fishing the same tournament as a co-angler. My dad passed in Florida, so we had gone down there to get his belongings and bring them back. We stopped at the Bass Pro Shop and bought a diamond chad crank bait. We got back, fished that tournament, and both of us ended up using that bait. I won the tournament, and he got third.”
According to Helton, being a successful angler consists of a mix of luck, skill and equipment.
“I think it’s a mix of all. You’ve got to be able evaluate your surroundings and tell what the fish are doing that day. I’m a real aggressive fisherman, and I don’t like sitting in one place for too long. I’m going to have multiple spots. I fish at these little tournaments on 58 Highway on Saturday mornings, and I might hit 20 spots in five hours. You jump from here to there in order to find the fish,” Helton explained. “One of my favorite saying is ‘hook sets are free.’ What that means is that it doesn’t cost you anything, and if you think it’s a bite, set the hook.”
To date, Helton’s largest bass weighed in at 8.17 pounds, which he caught just three weeks ago on one of his new sponsor worms, a Hag’s F8 Tornado. Abu Garcia rods and reels are the angler’s go to products.
“I love fishing a jig. The thing with a jig is that you can fish a number of different ways. A local guy who helps me a lot is Matt Jenkin with Jenko Jigs,” Helton declared. “I use a lot of his products, and the ¾ oz football jig has been named the Helton Crawl by Jenkins because of how many I’ve ordered.”
While Chickamauga Lake will always be a favorite of the angler’s, one particular spot in Alabama is favored by Helton.
“Besides my home lake of Chickamauga, which is in the top six in the country, Guntersville would me my favorite lake. I love fishing top water, and that lake has a lot of milfoil in it so you can get a lot of top water bites,” Helton commented.
In a little over a week, Helton will head down to the International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades (ICAST) show in Orlando, Fla.
While there, the angler will be able to see the latest in fishing gear, accessories and apparel. Helton also hopes to turn this into an opportunity to increase his sponsorship.
“I feel that I’ve worked hard to get to this point and am finally at that point in my life where I could take the time to fish if I was financially able to. I’m not going to go into debt to do so though. I hope that I can pick up some sponsors and get out there and fish against the best in the world,” Helton stated.
To follow along on Tom Helton’s career, check him out at www.facebook.com/tom.helton.35