Jay Yelas: 'We will visit'

Dateline: Lake Lanier, Georgia

“Faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark.”
- Rabindranath Tagore 

I am in my comfy pants playing air guitar to Howlin’ Wolf and pacing back and forth in my hotel home … like right now as I try and figure out how to write this story.

Hang with me here for a second as I play and pace this out.

I came back to write about the new guys, but Jay Yelas is an old Elite guy who left and came back, so he is now a new old guy.

A dozen years or so ago he left. I wasn’t here then, had never even heard of “here” back then, so as I stand here playing Howlin’s E Chord on my folding cane air guitar I’m thinking about how I play out Jay’s story.

I’m going to play this with no back story. I’m going to write this from the moment I shook this man’s hand and introduced myself to him. Just two dudes meeting each other for the first time, that’s just how it has to be because after talking with him now several times this is the feeling I come away with, the words and his voice pitch and inflection he used to describe himself, his family, his faith and fishing are the most gentle words I’ve ever heard while covering sports.

No one in my entire career has ever called an interview what Jay called it so now comes my story about our “visit” (i.e.: interview). 

db’s and Jay’s visit…

“…where I'll be…”

“The greatest strength a man can achieve is gentleness.” 
- Monty Roberts 

He speaks through a smile, the raised inflection comes midway through the sentence, not up front nor at the end … in the middle, gentle persuasion.

“I am a man of deep faith,” which I knew before he even said it, knew it through his pace and tempo, heard the words floated on an air of inner peace.

Jay is 53 years old, married 28 years to Jill, lives in Oregon where he says, “I’m the only professional bass fisherman in the state.” He has two daughters, Bethany his youngest and Hannah who is getting married in August, “She’s working on her Masters at Northwest University, wants to become a Christian counselor.”

Many of you who know me understand I’m on the fence about “faith,” and the concept of God, but I don’t run from it or hide other’s beliefs. It would be impossible to learn about Jay without exploring his deep faith without judgment.

“God is huge part of my life, I have a Christian worldview on life, a lot to be thankful for, very blessed met Christ in February 1993 at a Christian angler meeting, I was a young pro on the tour, it was there where I heard the gospel for the first time, started reading the Bible, and it was a turning point in my life.”

He told me that in what we used to call in my neighborhood “his church voice,” which to us on the block corner meant speaking true.

“…when it's said and done…”

“Choices are the hinges of destiny.”
- Edwin Markham

Jay graduated from Oregon State University with a degree in resource recreation management. "Most of my classmates went on to become forest rangers or other jobs in the forestry industry.”

He is a huge college baseball fan, especially of his Oregon State Beavers baseball team who won last year’s NCAA D-1 Baseball World Series for the third time. 

“I love the heart of the kids who play college baseball, love the passion they play with and I love living in the Pacific Northwest. I can fish the Columbia River, which is pretty much surrounded by a primordial forest, for salmon and steelhead but can also ski in the snow capped mountains and lay on the beach in the same day.”

Quick background on Jay’s ability to fish: In 2002 he won the Bassmaster Classic, in 2003 he won Bassmaster Angler of the Year, he also won AOY twice on the FLW tour and in 2003 he won ESPN’s ESPY for Best Outdoor Athlete. 

And all of that, at least much of that he credits to one man, Bill Sedar. “I was 16 years old when I met him and he became my fishing mentor…” 

“…well I'm proud as anyone…” 

“Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction.” 
- John Crosby

“…you know db you don’t hear about those kinds of relationships anymore, older guys mentoring younger guys, now you can pretty much learn how to fish by watching Bassmaster LIVE or videos on YouTube.”

His speech now is soft and level, softer than at any time of our talk, it is look-back speak.

“I met him when I was in high school in Santa Barbara, I was fishing five days a week and he was a wealth of information, he knew everything about the lake we fished on, knew every bass in it by name (soft laugh), knew about the life cycle of bass, it was a huge key for me to learn from someone who knew so much about bass and to have it come to me at an early age taught by someone 50 years my senior.”

Jay told me that as he grew up it was still an annual tradition for him to go back to Santa Barbara and fish with Bill up until he passed away at the age of 94. 

“He showed me not only how to fish for bass but the why of what bass do and why they do it, knowledge I’ve used all my life as a professional angler.”

“…that's where…” 

“Regardless of your past your tomorrow is a clean slate.”
- Zig Ziglar

“I’m just thrilled beyond words to be back fishing with B.A.S.S., since childhood I’ve always dreamed of being on the B.A.S.S. tournament trail so when this opportunity came back up I jumped on it. I can tell you I’m the most motivated in this period of my life to be on the biggest stage in bass fishing, so excited to end my career back where it began.”

And then in words so indicative of Jay, these: “It’s a time of refreshment for everyone.”

There may be no better time to have a gentle voice in the sport then right now and I for one will be listening to not only the words this man says, but how he speaks them which I hope remains soft with introspection.

If I have any advice in all of this, in all the hootin’ and hollerin’, it would be simply to stand back and listen to the whispers, stand back and listen to the soft talkers, the gentle folks, because you’ll never find wisdom within shouts.

Listen to those gentle talkers who lack mockery, jabs, digs or vengeance when they speak. Listen to those who speak of faith, of mentorship, of “visits” or “refreshment.”

And may we all be gentle in what we do, and say.


“…I come from.”
Back Where I Come From
Kenny Chesney

“Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength.”
- Saint Frances de Sales

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