Approaching the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open’s final 2011 tournament, a 24-year-old rookie from Tennessee ranks as the circuit’s No. 3 angler.
Brandon Card, in fact, is keeping some high company. His name appears just below those of Bassmaster Elite Series stars Gerald Swindle and Bobby Lane (Nos. 1 and 2 in points, respectively).
Keeping such company could be an omen of bigger things: If he can finish the Open season in the Top 5, Card will receive an automatic invitation to join the 2012 Bassmaster Elite Series. He’ll accept, he says, especially if he can muster some additional sponsor support.
“Qualifying for the Elites is my goal for the season,” Card said. “What makes the Southern Open so neat is that I could qualify the first week of June, giving me about six months to line up sponsors.”
The Open schedule is working in his favor. He has solid experience on Douglas Lake, site of the Southern division’s season-ender, June 2-4 in Jefferson County, Tenn. It’s not home water, but Douglas (just east of Knoxville) is not far from where Card grew up in LaFollette, Tenn. A decent showing on Douglas would cement a Top-5 points finish and punch Card’s ticket to the 2012 Elite Series.
Card has been dreaming since he was a young teen about a bass fishing career. His father broke him in on bait and bobbers when he was a small child, but it was his brother Jordan’s purchase of a bass boat at age 16 (Brandon was 14) that turned Brandon into a Micropterus hunter.
“We pretty much taught ourselves how to bass fish. We watched The Bassmasters on TV, read Bassmaster Magazine and went out on the water anytime we could,” said Card, who entered his first tournament at age 14.
After high school, he left home to attend the University of Kentucky, but he didn’t drop his fishing. He was the president of UK’s bass fishing team for more than three years, leaving the team only when he graduated in May 2009 with a degree in landscape architecture.
While a student, he also got into B.A.S.S. Federation Nation competitions. He qualified for the 2009 and 2010 Federation Nation championships presented by Yamaha and Skeeter Boats but missed his goal of earning a Bassmaster Classic qualification by winning in his division.
“After two championships, I figured I should step up and fish the bigger tournaments, and I chose to fish the Opens,” Card said.
To finance the venture, he worked up to 60 hours a week in his Knoxville, Tenn., landscape business, a partnership with his father. He said he put back enough money to use toward the Opens as well as for a second goal: to live on Lake Guntersville. Since March 1, he has been splitting his time between Caryville, Tenn., and Guntersville, Ala., so he can learn from the big Tennessee River impoundment.
Grass is the attraction to Guntersville, he said.
“My biggest weakness as an angler is lack of experience fishing grass,” he said. “That’s one thing I can teach myself on Guntersville.”
While he recognizes his weaknesses, he knows what he’s got working for him. But more important than his fishing skills is his brother, he said. Both he and Jordan, fishing partners since they were tots, joined the 2011 Southern Open circuit together. They support each other and share information.
“I can trust my brother a lot more than anybody else. I know we’re going to be 100 percent honest with each other. It’s a team effort for us,” he said.
Brandon has found more success in his first Open season than has his brother, but he expects Jordan to catch up soon.
“He’s married, living in North Carolina and doesn’t fish as much as I do now, so it’s harder for him,” Brandon said. “But we share the same dream of working our way up to qualify for the Elite Series.”