How I became an Elite

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John Hunter
John Hunter, a 24-year-old pro from Kentucky, has a short professional career with B.A.S.S. Though he has only participated in the three 2015 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open events, he had money finishes in each of them. This propelled him to fifth place in the year-end standings, the last spot to be guaranteed a slot in the 2016 Elites.

On this day last year, I was still being haunted by some lost fish in the 2014 Bassmaster College National Championship that kept my partner and me out of the Classic Bracket. But this day was also the largest pivot point in my entire fishing career. I decided to forget the past and move forward in obtaining my number one dream – becoming an Elite Series Pro.

From that day on, I made up my mind that fishing was what I wanted to do with my life. Therefore, I put my business degree from Georgetown College to work. I spent the next month building my media packet, sponsorship presentations and potential sponsor network. After weeks of emails and phone calls to a wide variety of people, I was blessed with a group of people who were going to take a chance on me. I signed with Texas Roadhouse as my primary sponsor to fish the 2015 season. I had a specific plan on how I wanted to approach 2015. I wanted to fish all of the Bassmaster Opens as a professional, and I wanted to compete as a co-angler on the FLW Tour. The reason for mixing these two was to give myself a chance to continue learning while also testing myself as a professional and trying to reach my ultimate goal of qualifying for the Bassmaster Elites. However, due to the high demand of the Opens last season I was too late and was only able to enter in the Northern Opens. This was terrible news, and I knew that my chances were going to be limited to only three tournaments on bodies of water I’ve never seen. In absence of the other tournaments I picked up the Southern FLW Rayovac trail to make up for the tournaments I wanted to fish as a professional in.

Fast forward eight months to July of 2015. I was blessed with a great year in FLW and ended up winning the Co-Angler of the year title, and was able to post a fifth place finish in my final Rayovac tournament of the season. Everyone told me how great I should feel about the season I had, but in my mind it still wasn’t good enough. The road to the real prize hadn’t even begun. Not that I wasn’t honored and excited about the accolades I had received, but I knew what was coming up – the first of the Bassmaster Northern Opens on the James River.

I had a nightmare of a tournament on the James, and lost a lot of key fish that would have given me a chance at the cut. However, I was able to keep it together enough to survive and advance with a 35th place finish. I just knew I was going to have to really catch them at the next two events.

Next on the list was Oneida. This was a huge tournament in my mind, because I knew that leaving that tournament I would either be in the hunt or basically completely out of it. Well, it really ended up working out for me. After days of daylight to dark practice, I was able to get on some fish in an area completely by myself which was really a rarity in that tournament. Most of the guys were packed together like sardines in an area no bigger than a football field waiting for the same school of smallmouth to come up – yeah that’s not for me. I was blessed to find a jerkbait bite on a flat with some scattered grass and no pressure from other anglers. I rode that pattern for a couple days and posted a finish in the 20s.

I really wasn’t in a favorable position going into the season finale on Lake Erie. I was just outside the Top 10 in points and knew that I needed a really good finish to have a chance, and even then some other anglers were going to have to struggle.

Lake Erie was actually a little tougher than what people made it out to be. The late season algae bloom had the water very stained and in my opinion it affected the smallmouth bite. I was honestly a little nervous heading into tournament day, because I would have classified my practice as very mediocre. I knew that there were a few places I got multiple bites in practice, and I was just hoping those places were the real deal.

Tournament day arrived after a seemingly sleepless night. To my surprise, a couple places were a lot better than I thought. I went out and caught 19 pounds the first day of the tournament. Little did I know I wasn’t even going to be in the Top 20. Just shows how awesome that place is. The pressure was on now. I didn’t know what I had to have the next day in order to make it, I just knew that I needed to go out and lean on every spot I had and catch the biggest bag possible.

I’ll never forget that second morning on Lake Erie. After a long 20 mile boat ride through monster waves, I finally arrived to my starting spot. I was absolutely jacked. I was fishing for a possible Elite Series berth – something I’ve dreamed of since a child. I proceeded to hook five fish over 4 pounds the next 2 hours and only landed one of them. My spot was done  I couldn’t get another bite. I sat down for a minute to regroup and regain my composure because I’ll be honest, I was pretty sick over losing nearly 20 pounds already. After talking with the man upstairs, I told myself it wasn’t too late and I had another good area that I could go catch them on. I just had to forget what had happened and start the day fresh from there.

So I went. The good Lord blessed me with an awesome afternoon, I returned to the place I caught them on in the previous day and loaded the boat with nearly 20 pounds of smallmouth. Despite the lost fish and a chance at a large 22-23 pound bag, I knew I at least had a shot at my goal after giving it all I had.

The end of the weigh-in concluded and I didn’t quite make the 12 cut, but what really mattered, was where I was in the points – Top 5. I did it. It was honestly surreal, my dream came true.

To say I am excited about next season is an understatement, and I am ready to go out and compete against the best in the world. It is an honor to get to do this, and I can honestly say it wouldn’t ever be possible if weren’t for my family, my friends and sponsors. People say it all the time, but I really learned this year that it takes a large support crew to make this all possible, and I believe I have one of the best around.

2016 Elite Series, here we come.