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181st member up to something 'fishy'

MSgt Tom Bowker, 181st OSS. Photo by Rob Newell, FLW

MSgt Tom Bowker, 181st OSS. Photo by Rob Newell, FLW

Hulman Field, Ind. --

     For many, fishing is a hobby or merely a stress relief offering a chance to get outdoors and enjoy nature. For Master Sgt. Tom Bowker, 181st Intelligence Wing member, it is getting closer and closer to becoming his profession. Bowker currently sits atop the points standings in the co-angler division of the Forrest L. Wood Outdoors (FLW) professional fishing tour. Leading the co-angler division with two more tournaments to go, Bowker, like every fisherman, is optimistic about his chances to finish high in the standings.
     "I have fished all my life and began fishing tournaments when I was stationed in Florida on active duty," explained the 44-year-old. "I am hoping to finish in the top 20, that's the goal right now and I think I have a really good chance."
     The co-angler division Bowker fishes, pairs anglers up with current professionals on the FLW tour. The co-anglers join the professional for a day on the water and compete against 150 other co-anglers, fishing with a different professional every day for three days. While it might be a little intimidating being paired up with a professional, Bowker explained that he really enjoys being paired up with the professionals and feels he has picked up some great knowledge from each one.
     "Everyone I've been paired up with has been really great," he said. "I get to know them a little and by the end of the day we are joking around and stuff. There is still a lot to learn and I try and pick up something from everyone I fish with."
     He has been paired up with professionals like Jimmy Houston and Dion Hibdon, both well-known professionals on the tour.
     "Jimmy Houston was a great guy and we got along," Bowker said. "I have not had a bad experience being paired up and most guys understand you are competing just like they are."
     In the first tournament of the year at Florida's famous largemouth bass fishery, Lake Okeechobee, Bowker found himself leading the co-angler division after the first day with a five-fish limit weighing it at 18.9 pounds. Tossing a moss frog into the thick vegetation, Bowker was able to hold onto the lead until the last day, when he lost a couple fish that would have put him right up near the top. He finished 5th in this tournament and followed that up with a 13th place finish at Lake Eufala in Alabama and he found himself sitting at the top of the point standings in his division.
     Bowker has been in the military for 22 years and has fished everywhere his military career has taken him. He is also no stranger to winning big tournaments, one of which was the Air National Guard tournament held at a different lake every year and hosted by a local Air Guard Wing. The ANG fishing tournament, annually held in April, is a team tournament that puts Airmen from all over the nation up against one another sometimes hundreds of Airmen each representing their own base or wing. For these team tournaments, Bowker has fished with Master Sgt. James 'J.D.' Brown, 181st Logistics Readiness Squadron, who is also no stranger to competitive fishing.
     "Tom's a 'fish-cathin' machine' and possibly the best fisherman I know. I'm excited he's doing so well in the FLW," Brown said. "We have fished very well in the ANG tournaments and we go out there, have a good time and represent the 181st on the lake. I think he can win this thing and I'm pulling for him."
     Following in the 181st tradition of excellence, Bowker and Brown have won ANG tournaments, finishing 2nd, 3rd, 5th and this year 7th. The 181st team is a force to be reckoned with no matter where the tournament is held.
     Most people believe fishing is just relaxing in a boat; however, tournament fishing is anything but and Bowker claims his military discipline and physical fitness gives him a slight edge. Rising well before the sun comes up and spending all day on the lake, casting an estimated 4,000 times a day might wear on a casual angler. Bowker and the other fisherman do that for three or four straight days, and that's not taking into account two practice days leading up to most tournaments.
     "It can be very physically demanding," Bowker said. "I know that staying physically fit for my Air Guard duties has helped me during those hot days on the lake and the discipline learned throughout my entire military career can keep me focused as well."
     For now, Bowker is researching his next FLW co-angler tournament at Lake Dardanelle in Arkansas coming up in August. The hot southern weather will definitely be a factor and Bowker will have to hope he is paired with a professional looking to fish his same style. If not, he will have to adapt to the pro's style and switch his tactics. With a good showing at Dardanelle, Bowker might soon be the professional dictating his own style and offering advice to a co-angler in his boat.
     "The FLW has been an excellent opportunity for me," Bowker explained. "The co-angler series is an unbelievable program. With a couple of good fish, I am hoping to be able to qualify for the Forrest L. Wood tournament that has a $100,000 pot."
     Using his Air Force core values on and off the water, Bowker will head to his next tournament with integrity, service before self and when weighing in a full limit of fish, he'll prove excellence in all that he does.