SHREVEPORT, La. – It’s been a year-long journey that’s included serious trials, from potentially saving a life, to avoiding everything from snakes and alligators to a worldwide pandemic, but Guiseppe Andreoli says it has all been worth it.
Andreoli, a Burrillville resident, won Eastern Division as a co-angler at The Bass Federation national championship, finishing 6th overall in the competition.
It’s a ranking that puts him among the top anglers in the country, and comes with enough prize money and benefits to make life as a professional fisherman a real possibility.
“Winning these events puts you in a position where at least you can try – and that’s what you do for work – travel the country and fish,” Andreoli told NRI NOW this week.
Now, he’s headed to the All American Championship, where the stakes are even higher.
His journey to the high-level competition really began about a dozen years ago, when Andreoli took a position as a third shift security guard at Brown University.
“If I worked a 9-5 I wouldn’t be able to do this,” he said.
Andreoli is also a pro staff member for Big Bear Hunting & Fishing in Harmony, which he said has been another factor in enabling his success.
“I have a great group that supports me,” he said. “They help me throughout the season.”
In addition to selling sporting goods, the business holds classes and educational events, helping to train New England’s next generation of competitors. From clinics, to educational shows and flea markets, Big Bear does, “anything that we can to give back to the community,” Andreoli said.
A Johnston native, Andreoli notes he began fishing as a teenager, but, “I didn’t really get into competitions until a couple years ago.”
His trail this year began with a two-day state qualifier at two locations – held on Echo Lake in Burrillville and Worden Pond in South Kingstown in 2020. The top six boaters and co-anglers make the state team and qualify for a regional contest, which was held in October.
Of course, COVID-19 affected all aspects of life during 2020, and fishing was no exception.
Andreoli was originally supposed to travel to TBF’s regional championship on the Hudson River, but Rhode island was added to the New York quarantine list just weeks before the event, forcing the state to hold its own event at the last minute.
The competition includes categories for both boaters and co-anglers, and at the last minute two-day regional tournament at Webster Lake in Massachusetts, Andreoli was the top co-angler, qualifying for the national event in Shreveport, La.
The oldest and largest organized grassroots angling organization in America, TBF covers expenses, such as entry fees, food and lodging for the top-level competitors who qualify for that three-day event.
“They pay for a lot of things,” Andreoli said. “They definitely take care of you when you start to get to that level.”
Held on the Red River, the fishing contest is only open to the nation’s top 100 competitors, and came with plenty of its own obstacles – literally and figuratively – according to a write up on the TBF website. The river was badly flooded in 2016 and the fishing suffered. But the Red River Waterway Commission has worked to restock and rebuild the fishery in recent years.
Two weeks prior to the event, a record cold hit the southern United States and sent temperatures down to near zero degrees for most of a week. Then flooding rains came, and the river rose around six feet, creating potentially hazardous conditions for boaters, with a strong current and debris.
“It definitely affected the river big time,” said Andreoli. “There were whole trees floating down it.”
“Fishing a new river can be tough enough as it is because there are lots of variables,” noted a TBF article. “Backwaters, wing dams, oxbows and hidden lakes to find, locks and dams to deal with, barge traffic, and plenty to avoid as well like a plethora of submerged objects and shallow water to get un-stuck from if you’re not careful.”
In the final days leading up to the competition, the weather finally cooperated, with the river sinking a foot a day as the anglers practiced. But there were still stumps everywhere and a serious current with the potential to wreck boats.
Those weren’t the only obstacles in the Red River, which is rife with deadly snakes and alligators.
“I was reading all this stuff on the way down,” said Andreoli. “We don’t have to worry about something trying to kill you while you’re fishing out here.”
Co-anglers are paired up with champion boaters via a raffle each day of the event, and on day two, Andreoli was assigned a boater from Maryland. Mid-way through, the man fell into the water and was pulled underneath by the current. Andreoli jumped in and pulled him out.
“We will never forget that. It was scary,” he said. “That river was no joke.”
The accident created yet another dilemma: his boater wanted to leave.
“If he decided to go home, I would never have qualified for day three,” Andreoli said, noting that the boater later had a change of heart.
For those not familiar with the sport, competitors are judged by the weight of the five best fish they catch, and Andreoli ultimately finished out day two with an 8.5, qualifying him for the final day, where only the top 14 anglers would compete.
And his day three performance came in at 10 pounds, winning the Eastern Division championship.
The event was filmed for television and will air on Federation Angler TV on the Pursuit Channel, on Outdoor Action TV, and various other networks.
And now, Andreoli moves on to the All American championship on Douglas Lake in Tennessee this June.
“This event is a huge deal,” he said. “It’s hard to qualify for it. I’m fishing for $50,000 to $60,000.”
Still, the angler was humble about the win, saying that much of the competition comes down to luck.
“There’s so many stars that have to align right,” he said, noting that he could have been matched with a bad boater, landed in a vessel with engine problems, or weather could have intervened. “We only have control of so much. There’s so many different variables.”
For now, he’s celebrating, while preparing for a run on the professional circuit.
“I’m nationally ranked now,” he said “No one can ever take that from me. Coming from the smallest state, fishing in some of the biggest waters, I definitely am satisfied and happy that I put my name on the map.”