PULASKI — From the moment he first took the boat in a onesie with a SpongeBob SquarePants fishing pole to his determined efforts to cast a rod with a broken arm at age five, Garrett Lawton has seemed destined for the success he has experienced as an emerging bass angler.
Lawton, who will enter his senior year at Pulaski High School this fall, was recently named to the Bassmaster All-State High School Fishing Team and is in the midst of angling for two area clubs this summer as he pursues his goal to compete in college for the Clarkson University Bass Fishing Club.
Lawton is a member of the Port City Bassmasters and the Port City Junior Bassmasters, the latter of which is a youth team formed by his dad, Mike Lawton, in 2015. Both clubs are comprised of area anglers and compete in various tournaments each year throughout the region.
Garrett Lawton also won the State Bassmasters High School Championship last June with partner Brent Tyrell of Central Square on Cayuga Lake, and the duo advance to the national championships last August in Tennessee.
“I just like the competition and I like to go out there and have fun with it,” Garrett Lawton said. “I’m trying to win but I don’t focus on that too much because that can really stress you out, and I just like to have fun with it.”
Lawton’s most recent accolade came in late March when he was named to the Bassmaster all-state team. He was one of just two anglers within the state to receive the honor, joining Alex Gauld of Tonawanda, and was among the 62 young fishermen across 35 states overall to be recognized.
Lawton said he jumped out of his chair at home when his father shared the news of his selection.
“It felt like a one-of-a-kind thing,” Lawton said. “There were only about 60 kids in the country to get it so that just kind of felt pretty special to me. It was something I was really hoping to get and a really big honor.”
Lawton, who works a part-time job at Fat Nancy’s Tackle Shop in Pulaski and administers bass-fishing advice to inquiring customers, got an early start in the sport.
Mike Lawton and Garrett’s mother, Renee, each recalled taking their son on the boat for fishing outings when he was two-years-old, equipped with gear displaying his favorite childhood cartoon character.
“That was when I was back in diapers,” Garrett Lawton said of his earliest fishing memories. “I was probably one or two-years-old and going out on the boat with my dad just throwing a bobber and worm at that point.”
Mike Lawton, who was also an avid angler growing up in Mexico, added: “He absolutely just thrived on it and loved to fish. He had to be with me in the boat all the time or on the dock, and it just took off from there. He started studying it and he’s gone way past me.”
The ability to fish was at the top of Garrett Lawton’s list of concerns, according to his parents, after he suffered a broken arm at age five. He practiced by setting up the lid of a garbage can at the end of his driveway, and casting his line until he was able to hit the lid consistently. Renee Lawton said that she can still hear Garrett running into the house yelling excitedly that he had pulled off the feat.
“He was just totally emotional about the fact that he couldn’t cast a rod, so he went out and spent about eight hours in the driveway and figured out how to throw that rod with a cast on his arm,” Mike Lawton said.
Garrett Lawton’s dedication has paid off in recent years, most notably last summer when he and Tyrell were crowned Bassmaster state high school champions. The duo won the tournament on Cayuga Lake with a combined catch weight of 22 pounds and one ounce, and was one of 337 teams that advanced to the national competition on Kentucky Lake in Tennessee last August.
“(Tyrell) is a really good fisherman as well and I just have to give him thanks for fishing with me that day and getting to experience that with him,” Lawton said. “It was amazing. Our parents started yelling and screaming because we won and when we got those plaques, it was just an amazing moment. … It’s kind of a rush when you get up in front of everybody on stage to pull your fish out of the bag, and it’s just a lot of fun.”
Lawton is currently preparing for upcoming adult tournaments with the Port City Bassmasters and youth outings with the Port City Junior Bassmasters. He also holds all of the volunteer elected officer positions with the juniors club and takes notes at meetings, conducts voting sessions to determine what lakes the group will visit, and assists with a multitude of other organizational tasks.
Lawton won an adult tournament last summer and has tallied several top-five finishes over the last two seasons, and his goal for this summer is to win the club’s Angler of the Year award.
His passion for the sport helped launch the formation of the Port City Junior Bassmasters, a popular area youth club in the midst of its fifth full season.
Mike Lawton was a member of the Port City Bassmasters and said he hosted a tournament in 2013 and 2014 where adult and youth anglers in the area formed mixed teams, and eventually presented the idea of forming a separate youth club that could help his son and other aspiring young fishermen gain knowledge and experience.
The Port City Junior Bassmasters was then officially launched in 2015 and has grown in popularity since, with about 20 kids from ages 8-18 participating this year to go with a developing waiting list for next season.
Garrett Lawton is planning to play varsity football in the fall along with track and field next spring, and is a member of the National Honor Society and Pulaski’s Varsity Club and Prom Committee.
He has been offered an academic scholarship to Clarkson University and wants to study mechanical engineering while competing for the school’s bass fishing club.