Flying High

by David A. Brown

Courtesy FLW Outdoors Magazine - Jan/Feb 2012 issue.


Shawn Murphy (left) poses with Bill Taylor, FLW director of tournament operations,
while holding the ROY trophy.

Shawn Murphy might not have set out to become the Walmart FLW Tour Rookie of the Year, but he certainly did set out with the discipline, determination and diligence that tend to yield such medals. The Nicholasville, Ky., pro carried a self-perpetuating motivation that got him through the tough times and made him smile in those mission-accomplished moments. Here’s how he did it.

Getting Here

Murphy’s father, Greg, introduced him to local night tournaments as a youth. He started his organized tournament trail career in the Walmart Bass Fishing League, and when the yen for a greater challenge became too much to ignore, he moved up to the EverStart Series Central Division, where he won angler of the year in 2009, his rookie season.

Strategy Points

Murphy, who describes himself as an aggressive straight shooter who speaks his mind, entered the 2011 season with one goal: to qualify for the Forrest Wood Cup. He promised himself that he wouldn’t let anybody outwork him and that he would properly manage all the elements that affect fishing results within his ability to do so.

“With the level of guys I was competing against, I knew I had to give it my all,” Murphy says. “The biggest thing to me was to get out [on the water] right at daylight and stay right until dusk. I wanted to do everything I could do to eliminate any second-guessing. Coming into the year, I had a guideline of all the things that I can be in charge of, other than catching fish. I went through all of those steps each and every night and every day while I was out on the water.”

That regimen covered all aspects of tackle and preparation, including changing his line after practice and every night after a tournament day. Murphy heard plenty of criticism about wasting line, but for him, such investments bought him that all-important competitive edge called “confidence.”

“I’d tell doubters, ‘It might be a waste, but if that line breaks the next
day, at least I know that I gave it my all,’” he says.

Pro Tools

Murphy also devoted long hours to map study and Internet research, along with intense electronics practice.

“Learning how to use Lowrance StructureScan was pivotal in the way I finished at some events this year,” he says. “Between events this year, I went to my home lake [Herrington in central Kentucky], and I didn’t take any fishing rods. It was just about simply getting out there with that StructureScan and learning what was what. I learned the difference between what a largemouth or spotted bass looks like and a striper or a bottom fish.”

Season at a Glance

Murphy’s season started dismally with just one fish on day one at the Beaver Lake event, but that night he refocused his game plan and ended in the money at 46th place.

“That gave me the confidence that I can compete with these guys,” he says. “That was what got me going forward.”

Unfortunately, he stumbled again in event No. 2 at Lake Hartwell. He finished 131st. Murphy then bounced back with a 21st-place performance at Chickamauga, and a 26th-place finish on the Red River provided another boost. Murphy finished 68th at Kentucky Lake and in the money at Pickwick with a 23rd-place showing.

Murphy credits his mother’s lifelong faith in him and his natural abilities for the success he’s achieved.

“When I was growing up, my mom [Venita] would always tell me, ‘If you put your mind to something, you can do it because I know you’re the best at everything already,’” Murphy recalls. “She believed in me and had faith in me that I can be the best. That was something I always referred to when I was down or wasn’t catching fish. I’d say to myself, ‘Hey, put your mind to this and you’ll be the best."


Building and Flying

As the owner of SGM Homes and SGM Excavating, Shawn Murphy spends most of his nonfishing workweek raking concrete, operating a bulldozer or nego-tiating with prospective homebuyers. Oddly enough, he recently found a connec-tion between his vocation and his newest dream.  A long-standing fascination with the remote-controlled toy helicopters of his son Gavin prompted Murphy to express an interest in learning to fly the real thing. He then was surprised by his wife, Kristy, with a birthday gift – a helicopter flight lesson. When the big day arrived, the pilot not only provided a memorable aerial tour, but he also gave Murphy a few minutes on the stick.  “Here I am sweating and a nervous wreck, but I took the controls and the pilot was really impressed with the way I flew the thing,” Murphy says. “You have to use your hands, feet and eye coordination all at the same time, and I reflected that back to when I’m running heavy equip-
ment.” Now, thoroughly hooked, Murphy hopes to someday acquire a pilot’s license, though not to replace fishing, but rather to augment his profession.  “That’s a long-term goal, to be successful in fishing and my other businesses and maybe try to purchase a helicopter,” he says. “Maybe I can fly over some of these lakes and check them out.”


Shawn Murphy - Consistency Made Him FLW's Top Rookie


In rather quiet fashion, Shawn Murphy compiled more Angler of the Year points than any other first-year competitor on the FLW Tour last season. His performance was so unassuming, in fact, that the organization initially handed the top-rookie trophy so somebody else by mistake.

Murphy, a 32-year-old resident of Nicholasville, Ky., finished 37th on the points list and qualified for the Forrest Wood Cup in his debut season as a pro. That was four places higher than Florida's John Cox, the winner of the event at the Red River. But on day 3 of the season finale at Pickwick, it was Cox who was called to the stage to accept the Rookie of the Year trophy.

Murphy was sure something was amiss – his father had run the numbers and assured him that his point total was higher than any other rookie. He brought the matter to the attention of FLW officials, and he received a call the following day informing him that there had indeed been an error and that he was indeed the ROY.

In a true better-late-than-never scenario, he got his trophy 3 weeks later at the Forrest Wood Cup in Arkansas.

"It was nice because you only get one chance at that one," he said. "I've got the rest of my career to try to win the Angler of the Year, but you're only a rookie once."

Solid, if Unspectacular

The consistency that Murphy displayed in his first pro campaign was solid by just about anyone's standards and exceptional for a rookie. He never seriously threatened to crack the Top 10 in any of the six majors, but he finished in the 20s three times and cashed another check with a 46th.

His only real bomb was at Hartwell, where his primary stuff got blown out by 40-mph winds on day 1 and he had no backup areas, which led to a 131st-place showing. His other non-paying finish (68th) was on his home water, Kentucky Lake, where he fell victim to a phenomenon that's plagued many "locals" throughout competitive bass-fishing history.

"That's the one where I had the most confidence, but I know too much about that lake and I rushed everything and I panicked," he said. "I had spots from the dam going south for 70 miles and I started at my farthest point.

"I couldn't get those fish to fire up, so I said, 'If they're not here, they're probably there.' Then I'd go to the next place and say, 'Well, if they're not here, then they have to be there.' I kept running around when I should've camped out where they'd been all week in practice."

When asked to pinpoint the highlight of his season, he tabbed the first event at Beaver.

"I was a nervous wreck. It's my first day fishing against all the guys I'd seen on TV, and I go out and catch one fish. I started thinking that maybe I didn't belong there."

He spent that day flipping way up the White River, but scrapped that plan on day 2 in favor of throwing a jerkbait on the main lake. It produced a 12-pound sack – a serious haul for that event – and he moved up 60 places in the standings.

"When they handed me that $10,000 check, it was almost like they'd handed me a million dollars. That got me into the mindset that I could fish with these guys and gave me confidence that carried me through the rest of the year."

Experience Will Help

Murphy's primary goal for 2012 will be to qualify for his second straight Cup.

"Other that than, I don't really have any goals," he said. "I just want to fish to the best of my ability and I don't want to put a lot of pressure on myself.

"I'd eventually like to win an Angler of the Year, but I think I've got some work to do before that."

One season of experience might not seem like a lot, but he expects it to make a big difference in a lot of ways.

"I don't think you can ever be really prepared for your first year – all the hours you put into pre-tournament research and everything, you can work daylight to dark and still be like a lost ball in a huge patch of weeds. Next year, having been at some of those places before and having my work ethic carry over, I think I'll be a little better prepared."

And he vows to improve upon his finish at his home lake.

"I plan to utilize my time a lot better there, that's for sure."