Bassmaster Elite Series rookie Joe Sancho is a classic example of how a weekend tournament angler can work his way up through the ranks of the B.A.S.S. Nation program and make it to the pro level.
The 47-year-old New Yorker has always aspired to become a pro angler. “I love fishing more than anything,” he said.
When he was about 15 years old, Sancho competed in his first tournament, a B.A.S.S. Nation club event held by the Black Rock Bass Busters on Orange Lake. “I think I caught one fish on a crankbait,” Sancho recalled of his tournament debut.
After fishing in the Black Rock club for about seven years, Sancho joined the New Jersey Bass Kickers and is still a member of that B.A.S.S. Nation club. “I came up through the ranks,” Sancho said. “I didn’t just jump in as a boater. In my early 20s I couldn’t afford a boat, so I was a non-boater.”
Competing as a non-boater helped Sancho learn various techniques from a variety of partners. He credits former Bassmaster Classic qualifier and longtime Nation angler Ed Cowan with helping him become a polished angler. “He showed me a lot and showed me how to use the Slug-Go,” recalled Sancho. “I was known back then as ‘Slug-Go Joe’ because I would throw that Slug-Go all the time and actually wound up doing pretty good in the club on it.”
Sancho moved to the front deck when he bought his first boat at the age of 26. During his B.A.S.S. Nation days, Sancho made his club’s state team six times and qualified for one Eastern Divisional. He also fished in The Bass Federation for a year and made its national championship in 2008.
While working as an electrician, Sancho decided to start fishing the Rayovac FLW Series in 2007. In the next six years he qualified for five Rayovac championships and recorded a second place finish in 2008 at Thousand Islands on the St. Lawrence River.
Since he lives on the Hudson River, Sancho is strong in tournaments on tidal waters. He also feels at home fishing on shallow natural lakes. “I like flipping and pitching a jig in shallow water,” said Sancho of his favorite tournament technique.
Hoping to achieve his boyhood dream of qualifying for the Bassmaster Classic, Sancho decided to enter the Bassmaster Northern Opens in 2013. The New York pro also thought about making the Elites, “but it wasn’t something that was up front with me,” he said.
During his rookie year in the Opens, Sancho debuted with a 13th-place finish on the James River. He followed up with 52nd at Oneida Lake and 27th at Lake Erie. Although he missed the mark on making the Bassmaster Classic, Sancho finished in seventh place in the Northern Open point standings and earned an invitation to the Elites.
Through his ascension to the Elite Series ranks, Sancho exemplifies how far today’s young anglers can advance through the B.A.S.S. Nation program. “Nowadays there are unbelievable high school programs and college fishing teams,” he said. “I wish they had that back in my day. That is the path to take. It is amazing with these guys coming out of high school. With the B.A.S.S. Nation bringing (high school fishing) on board it is just unbelievable, and I am for it 110 percent.”