For most of us, our time on this earth is a journey of joy, hope and sorrow. As much as we’d like to, none of us can avoid the last one.
At the age of 45, in his second year on the Elite Series, Frank Talley has already experienced an abundance of all three.
On Day 2 of the YETI Bassmaster Elite at Lake St. Clair, Talley sacked the biggest bag of his young Elite career with 22 pounds 10 ounces. That moved him into 10th place in the tournament and 27th in Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings.
“I was on cloud nine,” he said.
But on Day 3, well, Talley tanked. The wind died down, and he only caught three fish. Talley dropped from 10th place to 38th, and he fell to 39th in AOY.
Editors Note: After this story was written, Talley had a fantastic finish to the 2020 Elite season. He won the Lake Guntersville tournament in October, and ended the year 15th in Angler of the Year.
The highs and lows of a bass fishing career are relatively new for Talley, who resides in Temple, Texas. He fished just one year on the Central Opens in 2018 to qualify for the Elites. Prior to that, he had never fished a Bassmaster or FLW tournament.
His one year on the Central Opens was truly special. Talley finished inside the Top 12 in three out of the four tournaments, winning the Angler of the Year title and earning berths in the 2019 Bassmaster Classic and Elite Series.
But Talley is far from an overnight sensation. He has been a bass addict since fishing his first tournament with his dad, Frank, at age 6. Growing up in southern California (Diamond Bar), Talley and Frank Sr. competed in tournaments across the state, as well as in Arizona and Nevada.
“My dad was well-known,” Talley told writer Mark Hicks. “We fished tournaments that drew guys like John Murray, Rich Tauber and Mike Folkestad. We fished against Aaron Martens and his mom for years in California.”
But then life threw some roadblocks in front of any dreams Talley had about fishing professionally.
After high school, he moved to Waco, Texas, to attend Texas State Tech. His older brother Rich lived nearby, and they often fished tournaments together. Eventually, Talley got a two-year degree in occupational health and safety, but not before meeting his future wife, Christy, and having twins when the young couple was just 18.
Making a living became the priority, and Talley began working as a production manager at a mobile home plant.
“I had to put my fishing dreams on hold and focus on supporting the family,” he said.
He also dedicated himself to coaching his kids in softball, football and baseball.
Eight years ago, Talley and his wife made a giant gamble, selling their home and investing the money in a new business, Extreme Hoses & Hydraulics. The business makes and repairs hoses and cylinders for tractors, bulldozers and industrial machinery. Talley built it into a success by working 12- to 18-hour days.
For some, the decision to join the Elites isn’t a simple one. Talley knew it would mean time away from his beloved family and a growing business. He was leaning toward not doing it.
Then the family held an intervention with him. Christy, daughter Destiny, now 27, and son Frank, 17, sat Talley down and wouldn’t relent.
“They told me, ‘You have to do this. You could have fished professionally when you were younger, but you’ve supported us all these years. It’s your time now,’” Talley said. “They knew the Elites were my dream. It brought tears to my eyes. Not many kids understand what their parents have done for them.”
So, Talley signed on for the carnival ride that is the Elite Series.
The success Talley had on the Central Opens did not immediately carry over to Elite tournaments. Most of his 2019 rookie campaign was a struggle. He finished 69th in the AOY standings. But toward the end of the season, he figured something out.
“I had a preconceived notion that on the Elite Series, I had to use a whole lot of different techniques,” Talley said. “I thought I had to adapt and use whatever technique was popular at each place.
“I finally realized I had to fish Frank Talley’s way.”
Talley went back to focusing on the skills that helped him qualify for the Elites. He’s a power fisherman. He likes to run and gun, throwing crankbaits and spinnerbaits. He likes to fish shallow.
Moving back into his wheelhouse paid off quickly for Talley with a 13th place finish at Lake Tenkiller in September 2019, his highest finish to date on the Elite Series.
Including that tournament, Talley has finished in the money (the Top 40 cut) nine out of the past 10 Elite tournaments.
Talley is particularly motivated to make the 2021 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic. Most of his family lives in Texas now, and the Forth Worth Classic is a short drive from home.
“My wife told me she’d divorce me if I didn’t make the Classic,” he said with a smile.
Life hasn’t always been roses for Frank John Talley. He’s the third in that line of names, with his son being the fourth.
His father died at 74 years old in May 2018, but not before seeing his son weigh in on three Central Opens Championship Saturdays. That brought tremendous joy to both men.
“My dad taught me everything I know about fishing,” Talley said. “He always told me he wasn’t afraid of dying; he just didn’t want to suffer. He was working on his bass boat, getting ready to go fishing. He had a massive heart attack and probably passed before he hit the floor. He died doing something he loved.”
If you look closely at the back of Talley’s jersey, there are pictures of two people memorialized on either side of his name. Their photos are also on the back of his boat. The one on the right is his father. The one on the left is his oldest son, Raymond.
Raymond was the other twin, along with Destiny, who is now a social worker in Texas and studying for a master’s degree.
Raymond died when he was 14 in a freak accident, just after Christmas on December 29, 2007.
“He was at his grandma’s house with his 16-year-old friend,” said Talley. “They were out driving around in a pasture. Raymond was in the back of the truck. They hit a rut, and my son got thrown into a tree. It broke his neck.”
When you watch an Elite Series weigh-in now, Talley comes across as a big, funny, positive guy. You’d never know he had this kind of tragedy in his life.
Can we ever really recover from the devastating loss of a child?
“You never get over it,” said Talley. “But you learn to deal with it.
“I was a mess. But I had to be strong for my family. I had to buckle up my bootstraps and find some kind of normal for my family. My wife was a basket case. She basically didn’t come out of the bedroom for a year. We had to grieve. But the four of us slowly brought each other out of it.”
Nearly 13 years later, Talley takes some pride in how the family has handled the loss.
“We don’t want to put his death away in the closet and hide from it,” says Talley. “We still want everyone to know he’s our son. That’s why I have his picture on my jersey and boat wrap. I want to honor Raymond and my dad.”
Heartbreak has a way of changing a person. For some, it can be a dark hole that’s hard to climb out of. But Talley has focused on the positives remaining in his life. And the angler known as “Frank the Tank” believes he’s got more empathy now, more understanding of others experiencing life’s curveballs.
“I try to stay upbeat,” he said. “Even with the tragedy that happened, I still have a beautiful wife and two great kids.”