Focused: Tommy Skarlis and Jeff Lahr
May 16th, 2014 by OutdoorsFIRST
Modified May 16th, 2014 at 12:00 AM
Perhaps there is a little irony that it was a 19th place finish in an MWC tournament many years ago that sprouted an idea. “Maybe, just maybe we’ve got what it takes,” Tommy told himself more than 20 years ago after an MWC tournament out of Dubuque. “We only finished in 19th, but Gary Parsons and Keith Kavajecz finished 20th. It gave me just enough confidence.”
Tommy’s love for hunting and fishing grew from a very young age, and his parents fostered it by buying him guns and fishing rods. “I realized I could be a winner. I could be successful by putting meat on the table,” said Tommy. “Bringing pheasant to my great-grandma or fish fillets to my aunt and mom got me hooked. They loved that.”
For the first few years after High School, Tommy worked for his father selling products and services for home improvement. “I was good at it, and there were great people in the business, but after that MWC win in Dubuque, I realized I wanted to try to be a fishing superstar.” He left the family business to pursue fishing full time.
John Campbell mentored young pro Skarlis. “John was the single most influencing factor for my fishing career,” said Tommy. “He taught me how to strategize, not just the approach to winning but the approach of focus. Any energy used in any other direction is wasted.” Campbell dubbed Tommy “The Great Skarlini.”
There is another reason John Campbell made the biggest impact in young Skarlis’ life. “John introduced me to Carl Kaufmann from Chicago. On a long drive to Big Stone Lake, Carl introduced me to Christ. I had gone to church before that, but it was from there that I found the Lord. I have been so blessed.” Tommy is the first to admit that he struggles to walk the path. “I’m as messed up as the next guy, by no means perfect.”
Here are how the next few years came together for The Great Skarlini:
* 1996 with partner Chad Kinkade win MWC at Big Stone Lake in Ortonville, Minnesota
* 1997 with partner Chad “Big Fish” Kinkade win MWC Team of the Year
* 2001 PWT pro-angler win at Detroit River
* 2002 PWT pro-angler win at central Lake Erie, setting a new world record basket at the time of 138.28 pounds; a 9.2 pound average
* 2003 PWT pro-angler win on eastern Lake Erie out of Dunkirk, New York
* 2004 PWT pro-angler win at Winneconne tournament plus 2004 PWT Angler of the Year
* 2004 and 2005 Ranger Cup
* 2008 FLW pro-angler Championship out of Bismarck, North Dakota
* 2009 AIM pro-angler win on Saginaw River/Saginaw Bay
* 2010 Full Throttle team event win in Red Wing with Jeff Lahr; record 41.63 basket for five fish plus Full Throttle Team of the Year
* Included in 2011 Outdoor Life’s “Top 10 Anglers on the Planet”
* 2012 Mississippi River FLW Red Wing
* 2013 Crappie Master’s Champions with partner Kyle Steinfeldt out of Granada, Mississippi
Michelle and Tommy are busy raising two young boys in Waukon, Iowa: Jake (10) and Nick (8). Tommy’s sponsors are: Evinrude, Navionics, Ranger Boats, Humminbird, Berkley Gulp! Powerbait, Trilene and Fireline, Do-It Molds, Off Shore Tackle, St. Croix Rods, Miller Electric, Aqua Vu Underwater Cameras, Minn Kota, Optima Batteries, RockyBrook Sinkers, Salmo Baits, Abu Garcia, Hutch Tackle, Quick Swap – Wing It, CS Coatings , Fish On Rod Holders, Whitetail’R, Reef Runner, Smooth Moves Seat Mounts and Gemini Custom Apparel.
Jeff Lahr is a journeyman tool-and-die plant manager in Dubuque, Iowa. He and his wife Judy of 32 years have a grown son and a one-year-old granddaughter Jaelyn Jo. Active in the Mississippi Walleye Club since 1990, in both board of director role and past president, Lahr fished both bass and walleye tournaments. He learned a lot from fellow river rats at the Walleye Angler Trail (W.A.T.) tournaments. He credits friend Steve Leslein on how to rig back-to-back double Rapalas.
He is known as “Uncle Jeff” because he met Tommy when Chad “Big Fish” Kinkade married Jeff’s niece, Stacy. The two enjoy a lot of hunting together and work well in team-format tournaments. “Tommy needed to learn how to do more than pitching a jig in the rivers,” said Jeff. “I helped him work wing dams, pull three-ways and rig the Rapalas. But Tommy is a really good strategy guy, making efficient use of time and reading the water. Plus, he really understands fish movement.” Lahr is a four-time Cabela’s National Team Champion All-American. This was his first MWC win. Lahr’s sponsor include: St. Croix Rods, Berkley Gulp! Powerbait Trilene and Fireline, Do-It Molds, The Bait Shack Dubuque, Abu Garcia Reels, Pflueger Reels and CS Coatings.