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I’VE FISHED WITH Oliver Ngy on my home waters twice, and I walked away from both trips so inspired I was giddy, yet hopelessly frustrated at the same time. It’s rare for me to meet a fisherman who bucks the mindset of the average angler so hard it makes me feel as though I’m a novice on the water—despite my having been utterly devoted to, and infatuated with, the sport for more than 30 years.
But no matter how dialed in you think you are, no matter how well you believe you know your home turf, Ngy has a way of making you rethink everything. And it’s all because he marches to his own beat and runs his own program no matter where he’s fishing. Your program is, at best, a starting clue in the mystery he’s forever trying to unravel.
The last time I saw Ngy, we found ourselves on my boat tucked into a piece of South Jersey tidal swamp. Snakeheads were the target, and one of the few fish he’d yet to catch.
“You been getting them on frogs and flukes?” he asked.
“Yup,” I said.
“OK, I guess I’ll just tie on a little topwater,” Ngy replied.
When I looked up from rigging my own rod, I wasn’t shocked to see that his version of a “little topwater” was an 8-inch duckling. It was a crawler-style bait that waddled and splashed across the surface and, upon touchdown, hit the water like thunder.
I’d been through this with him before. Two years earlier, while chasing wild brown trout, Ngy refused to tie on the jerkbait I’d been crushing with for weeks, opting instead for a rubber swimbait half as big as the average trout in the system.
Back in the Jersey swamp, as I watched that duckling splat down over and over, I was caught somewhere between wanting to see a giant snakehead obliterate it in the worst way and wanting him to put on a damned normal-size frog and maybe actually catch his first-ever snakehead on my boat.
His reluctance to play by my rules is, at least partially, a product of Nintendo and the streets. At 41, Ngy still maintains his hip-hop style and flair. He fishes in Air Jordans, blasts A Tribe Called Quest, loves to shoot hoops when he’s not on the water, and carries himself with a swagger picked up on the streets of Los Angeles in the late ’80s and early ’90s.
His dad wasn’t in the picture. Ngy’s mother worked as a bookkeeper in his California hometown of La Puente and, as he puts it, they had “little to no money.” It would have been very easy, given the situation, for Ngy to fall in with the wrong crowd or follow the wrong path. But he was ultimately saved by Puddingstone Lake, a 250-acre reservoir just east of La Puente in the city of San Dimas.
“I literally started fishing with a stick and discarded line I found at the lake,” Ngy says. “I was using crappy, used, pre-snelled hooks I’d find lying around. And I didn’t do this because I had this passion for fishing. I was just that bored as a 10-year-old.”
It wasn’t catching a fish that flipped his switch, either. Quite the opposite. It was when a bluegill snapped that crusty, sunbaked monofilament that he became enamored.
“It was that moment of ‘almost,’” he says. “From then on, I was fascinated.”
Early on, it may have seemed like the L.A. suburbs wouldn’t be much help in fueling a passion for fishing. Ngy remembers spending his formative years reading and re-reading the few fishing books he could find at the West Covina Library. Most were focused on fly fishing, though even those taught him the importance of matching the hatch. Ngy simply fished wherever and whenever he could, from charter boats on the coast to local lakes through his teens, when he got serious about bass.
“I tried to fish local club tournaments and things like that, but usually I wouldn’t get in,” Ngy says. “Coming from a single-mother family didn’t really set me up for success there. We didn’t have much money, and nobody wanted to take some random kid fishing. Or the tournament directors would say their insurance wouldn’t allow me to fish.”
But timing is everything. Although the greater Los Angeles area was historically the farthest thing from a freshwater fishing destination, Castaic Lake and Lake Casitas just north of the city limits would put the region on the map as pioneers of the giant swimbait scene began catching goliath largemouth bass on these huge custom lures in the 1990s.
Eventually, what was an underground scene would explode globally. Ngy just happened to be finding his groove in the fishing game right before swimbaits would be mass-produced, sold in big-box retailers, and land in hundreds of thousands of tackle boxes throughout the world. It also didn’t hurt that Ngy discovered it on the early side of the Instagram boom.
“Turner’s Outdoorsman in West Covina was my local tackle shop when I was a kid,” says Ngy. “I remember walking in there when I was 10 and looking at all these custom bass plugs and lures from California builders. They’d have $50 price tags and be packaged in these dope boxes, and I was just blown away even though I couldn’t afford them.”
Little by little though, Ngy began building a swimbait arsenal. By the time he graduated from high school, he was fully committed to his “throw big or go home” attitude. But while his prowess as a big-bass catcher was only strengthening, fishing wasn’t paying the bills. Ngy worked construction and fished in his free time, eventually burning out after too many layoffs and inconsistent work following the housing crash of 2008. He found solace in bass fishing, and in 2012 a streak of big fish changed everything.
“I started fishing in January and skunked for a month straight,” he says. “Then I caught a 7.5- and 11-pound bass in the same day. That kicked off the wildest seven weeks of my life. I would go on to catch 17 bass over 10 pounds, and I couldn’t even tell you how many 7-, 8-, and 9-pounders.”
At the time, Ngy was doing something many other people weren’t: professionally filming all of his outings. Similar to how the underground hip-hop, skateboard, and street basketball scenes generated hype before the complete social media takeover, Ngy created an edgy DVD of his 2012 season. Factor in that Instagram was only in its early stages, and it didn’t take Ngy long to go viral considering the sheer amount of big bass video he’d amassed. The clincher was footage of him landing a 17.4-pound largemouth, and Ngy decided the time was right to create his own brand, Big Bass Dreams, and kiss the corporate world goodbye.
As I rowed around that Jersey swamp, praying Ngy’s first snakehead would materialize from one of the lily fields or weed mats where I’d caught so many of them before, I noticed that he attempted to drop his lure on every piece of bank and every stick in the water. Even if I suggested our location was low percentage, or we were just moving from one section of the swamp to another, he never stopped casting.
“I’m part of the Nintendo generation,” he reminded me with a laugh. “I realized not long ago that I owe so much of my fishing style to those video games. If you’re playing Zelda or Mario, you poke every brick. You jab every stone with the sword. That’s how you unlock codes, get new weapons, find all kinds of things. I fish the same way. I want to get a lure in as many places as possible.”
The thing about Ngy is that no matter how much I want him to catch that snakehead or brown trout, he cares less about the fish than he does about catching it his way. Getting that snake on a frog the way I and everyone else in the area gets them holds very little appeal. You could easily say that’s a silly way to fish because you’re often going to skunk, but Ngy looks at it as a learning experience that provides ammo for future endeavors—win, lose, or draw. If you’re always throwing what everyone else is throwing, you’ll never know if you’re missing opportunities or the chance to unlock a secret weapon.
A few years ago, for little reason at the outset other than wanting to challenge himself, Ngy threw his hat in the Bassmaster ring, jumping into the tournament circuit with both feet. He’d competed in a few local tournaments in his younger days, but running with a pool of national anglers on many unfamiliar bodies of water proved challenging. Ngy’s goal was to win his way in the lower-tier tournaments to the Elite series, but the struggles of competing against the best in country aside, guys like Ngy must still weigh the finances around everything they do. To use one of his favorite phrases: “If it don’t make dollars, it don’t make sense.”
“If I had achieved my goal of winning one of the events that would have instantly qualified me for the Bassmaster Classic, on paper that’s a win,” he says. “But if you look at the bottom line, even if I’d won $50,000, I wouldn’t have broken even on the expenses it took to get me there.”
The Problem Solver
It’s genuinely hard to describe what Oliver Ngy does. He’s a brand owner and a phenomenal, if not militant, angler. He’s fished all over the world. Despite his dislike of the term, he’s an influencer who carved out that space just ahead of everyone who would clamor to claim the moniker in the following years. He’s a guide, though these days he spends less and less time running private charters. A lot of the joy he’s found over the past few summers comes from helping at a fishing camp for kids in Connecticut. Ngy describes himself as a problem solver, always trying to figure new things out on the water, and in his mind, spending time with kids on his boat is best way for him to pass on his knowledge.
“You just reach so many more people that way than you can with private charters,” he says. “My long-term goal would be to open my own camp where I can host lots of people at the same time.”
After more than a decade on the road dragging boats, kayaks, and mountains of tackle from one side of the country to the other, Ngy admits he’s angling to spend more time at home in California. To the eye of a social media follower, Ngy looks like he’s living the dream. But constantly feeding the content machine and resting your head on couches and motel pillows eventually takes its toll. As does wear and tear on your gear. The morning after our snakehead trip, he texted me a photo of a failed weld on the front brace of his bass boat trailer. He’d have to deal with it one way or another before hitting the highway. This was the part of the “influencer grind” people don’t see, but inconveniences like this happen so frequently that Ngy practically shrugs them off with a laugh after so many miles and years.
Though the “thunder duck” never drew a snake from the grass, Ngy did score a few largemouths on another topwater lure, this one produced in Australia and equally big. I helped him get a little social fodder, even if it wasn’t full snakehead glory. I was upset about whiffing on the target, but I know he wasn’t. Ngy gleaned something from the day that he’ll break out when working the same baits Down Under for Murray cod, or when he’s fishing a similar body of water in the South. Something went into his cache of weapons, codes, and Zelda-like amulets that he’ll eventually use—even if it is only in the home water that he misses more and more with each uptick of his odometer.
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