MYETTE POINT — Somewhere, two men who mentored Andre “Tank” Sampay are smiling, proudly, after the up-and-coming bass angler captured the 2020 Angler of the Year title in the highly competitive Bullet Bass Club.
Sampay credited the late Clifton “Cliff” August Sr. and the late Leonard “T-Clyde” Norbert for the way they steered him to be a better person off the water and a better basser on the water. The 38-year-old Jeanerette native, who moved to Conroe, Texas, in 2009, talked about their impact on his life while fishing Thursday afternoon in the Atchafalaya Basin.
“T-Clyde, you know, was like a father to me, man. He really, really helped me keep me straight. He just mentored me. He told me, ‘I’ve never known a man get in trouble fishing,” Sampay said while he flipped a june bug Speed Craw in the Sugar Mill.
“He taught me so much about fishing, part of the reason for my success as a fisherman” as well as a person, he continued.
“He showed me places I didn’t know. We did a lot together more than just fish. That’s why it (Norbert’s sudden death) hurt so much. That one hit me, man,” Sampay said.
Norbert, who lived in New Iberia, was fishing a bass club tournament alone when he died in late August 2018. Apparently, the personable 58-year-old bass angler with a ready smile suffered a cardiac attack, then fell out of the boat in Mud Cove.
“He died doing what he loved to do and he died with five. He had a limit, man. The sad part is, I was supposed to fish with him (in that fateful tournament),” he said, adding he was unable to fish although his fishing buddy offered to pull.
Sampay believes he might have been able to do something to help if he had been in the boat.
“Yeah, that one hurt,” he said.
August, who died in 2012 at age 64, guided him mostly during his high school days, said Sampay, a standout athlete who played football, basketball and baseball at Jeanerette High (Class of 2020).
“He (August) was an avid angler, another mentor who used to take us fishing, keep us out of trouble and off the streets. I’m grateful for that man,” he said, noting he didn’t have time for the streets while playing high school sports but “was close to the other side of the world” after his collegiate basketball career.
“He used to make crank baits. He’d build me baits,” he said, appreciatively.
Now Sampay’s on top of the Bullet Bass Club. And extremely proud of the accomplishment.
Sampay fished all nine bass club tournaments and clinched the AOY title long before the regular-season finale Oct. 3-4 at Lake Sam Rayburn. He led the pack with 870 points. The closest challengers were Al Falcon and Randle Ardoin, tied for second with 790 points, followed by Gerald Foulcard, 785, James Charles and Johnny Maynor, both tied with 755 to make up the bass club’s Top Six.
After 11 years in the bass club, the ultra-competitive bass angler finally can call himself champion. He finished runner-up three times.
“It felt good, man. I worked hard for it,” Sampay said.
Then, with the utmost respect, he said, “It became a little easier when my buddy died. He was hard to beat. He brought it every year, every single tournament. He’d tell you every morning at the landing, ‘You’d better bring it.’ ”
This year, Sampay brought it. He won three bass club outings, including this spring at Toledo Bend, when he fished with Ben Suit of New Iberia, two-time AOY in the Louisiana Bass Cats.
During nine tournaments, he never finished lower than fifth. He had three seconds, a third, a fourth and a fifth.
The keys to winning the title, he pointed out with a smile, was “spending more time on the water, determination and skill, of course, but I don’t want to brag, heh, heh.”
The most satisfying tournament win, he said, was at Toledo Bend, which he has learned more and more.
“Yeah, that was my best trip of the year,” he said about the two-day tournament in which he and Suit had 18 pounds Saturday and followed up with 16 pounds Sunday.
“I caught the big bass of the tournament, which was 6.84, almost 7 pounds. We caught those fish wacky. Ben was throwing wacky rigs for a little while, then threw a Chug Bug. I threw a wacky rig all day. That was my best trip of the year,” he said.
Sampay relied on crank baits and spinnerbaits most of the tournaments to carry him to the top. As he showed Thursday, he casts deftly underhanded and is extra proficient pitching and flipping a june bug Speed Craw or june bug Baby Brush Hog.
There is a reason his nickname is “Tank.” He was 6-foot-5, 215 pounds as a three-sport letterman at Jeanerette High, a time when a local sports writer who still writes outdoors stories christened the basketball team, which scored 100 points often, the “Jeanerette Express.” He was 6-foot-5, 225 pounds as a scholarship basketball player for a year at Southern-Shreveport and two seasons at Austin Peay State University in Tennessee.
He remains an imposing figure today standing tall on the deck of his new 20-foot Phoenix bass boat with a 250-h.p. Mercury, which he got two weeks after an accident in May wrecked his 20-foot Bass Cat in the Franklin Canal.
Sampay simultaneously runs two businesses. He sells printers and copiers, a full-time job, and owns Sampay Solutions, which buys and restores vehicles.
His sports background illustrates his competitive nature.
“Sports taught me how to compete. Life is a competition. Nothing is going to be handed to you. Sports also made me understand you can pull together as one and accomplish more together as a team than an individual,” he said.
Win or lose, he said, “I’m the same person when I win and the same person when I lose.”
His future plans are to fish the Texas Team Trail, Outlaw Series and/or Louisiana B.A.S.S. Nation in 2021. Oh, and he’ll be out to defend his AOY title in the Bullet Bass Club.