BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Jason Hill has never owned a bass boat, but he didn’t let that stop him from pursuing his favorite hobby of bass fishing. Instead, he strapped his canoe to the top of whatever vehicle he owned at the time — from an old sedan to an SUV — and fished the ponds and smaller bodies of water near his home in Holderness, N.H.
Now, the situation has changed. By winning Fantasy Fishing presented by Toyota on Bassmaster.com, Hill now has a fully rigged Triton bass boat, and the canoe, a gift from his grandparents long ago, will be sidelined — at least for bass fishing purposes. His new Triton 18XS boat is equipped with a Mercury 150 Pro XS motor and comes with a Triton single axle trailer, a MotorGuide trolling motor, a Lowrance HDS-5 Gen 2, a Tempest Prop and 8-foot Talon shallow water anchors. His prize also includes a $2,500 Bass Pro Shops gift card and a B.A.S.S. branded jersey, bringing the total prize package to $45,318.
“I’ve been telling myself I would buy a bass boat for years,” Hill said. “It’s something I’ve always wanted. Being a teacher, you don’t make a whole lot of money for extra things, and to win a boat, especially one that is so awesome and more than I ever would have been able to buy myself, is incredible.”
Hill, a middle school English teacher and high school soccer coach, grew up on Squam Lake (No. 76 on Bassmaster’s “100 Best Bass Lakes” list) where his grandparents and parents had pontoon boats he could fish from. Hill still lives near Squam, the place he’ll debut his shiny new boat. Lake Winnipesaukee, a fishery he doesn’t venture onto often with the canoe, probably will be his second stop.
“I really cannot believe this has happened to me,” Hill said. “I’ve never really won anything before. During the last few weeks of Fantasy Fishing, I went with a gut feeling of the guys I thought would do well. The last couple of tournaments were smallmouth events, and I leaned toward anglers who were good on smallmouth.”
Hill first started playing Fantasy Fishing a few years ago when his childhood pal and fishing buddy Joe Vanasse started a group. This year’s game on Bassmaster.com began in early 2013 and lasted until the Bassmaster Elite Series ended with the Aug. 22-25 Plano Championship Chase. To enter before each of the eight regular season tournaments, contestants choose five anglers from five different categories into which the Elite field of 99 anglers was sorted. Each angler was worth a number of points based on his performance during the Elite season.
Hill and his buddy had a friendly rivalry to see who had better picks, but neither excelled with their choices.
“This year was pretty much the same until there were about three tournaments left in the season,” Hill said. “I realized I had gone up in the rankings to the Top 30, so each tournament I focused a little more on my picks and tried to keep in mind the percentages of ownership of each of the anglers. I figured if I made smart picks, I might have a chance to win. I really didn’t think I would until the last tournament when I was in second place. I was fortunate I picked Mark Davis, an angler not many picked, and he finished second in the last tournament. I couldn’t believe it.”
As Hill’s opportunity to win grew, so did the encouragement of Vanesse, who lives in Minneapolis, Minn. After the Plano Championship Chase, Vanesse was confident his buddy was the winner.
“He kept leaving me messages saying that I won,” Hill said. “We were waiting for the points to be updated, and I honestly thought I hadn’t won. One of my anglers (Aaron Martens) missed the weigh-in and dropped from third to 12th place. I still had three anglers in the Top 12. I kept saying no way, but he was so excited for me. He said, ‘Now you’re not going to be able to carry your boat on top of the car.’”
Hill is eager to take his best friend out on a bass fishing outing in the spring, and he has others clamoring to go out on the boat.
“We have several avid fishermen on the soccer team, and the state of New Hampshire recently adopted high school bass fishing as a sport,” Hill said. “(When the soccer team heard), they said, ‘Coach, now that you have a boat, you can be our fishing coach, too.’”
Hill, who had Aaron Martens as one of his top picks, said the Alabama pro is one of his favorite anglers.
“He’s fantastic, and he had a fantastic season,” Hill said. “I’m surprised more people weren’t picking him. Mark Davis is one of my new favorites. I don’t know a lot about him, but I plan to learn more and follow him more closely. His performance in that last tournament is part of the reason I won.”