Daily Limit: Yelas retires from Elites to serve youth

Bassmaster Elite Series pro Jay Yelas, a Bass Fishing Hall of Famer, is retiring from tournament competition to concentrate on his work getting disabled children fishing.

“I just let folks at B.A.S.S. know that I decided to retire from tournament fishing to focus on running the CAST for Kids Foundation,” the 57-year-old said. “So I’ve fished my last tournament.”

Yelas, who won the 2002 Bassmaster Classic and was Angler of the Year the following season, was having a great 2022 Elite season when tendonitis in both elbows forced him out. The ambidextrous pro from Lincoln City, Ore., left mid-event and took a medical hardship despite standing 13th after two days at the Lake Fork Elite.

“That was a bummer for me,” said Yelas, who experienced excruciating shooting pains. “I was doing well at that event … I’ve never had to pull out of one before. My left arm was pretty much useless. I was like a one-armed bandit. I still can’t set the hook with my left arm. It’s getting a lot better than it was in May. I could hardly turn a reel handle at Fork.”

His position at Fork before he left had moved Yelas to 30th in AOY points and on course to qualify for his 17th Classic. But he couldn’t finish his 234th event with B.A.S.S., an organization he was proud to serve.

“I’m so thankful, first of all, to Ray Scott for starting this whole craziness that we call bass fishing and giving an opportunity for people like me to go make a living,” Yelas said. “I’ve made a living for 35 years as a professional bass fisherman.

“I fished my first Bassmaster event in 1989 at Lake Mead and fished B.A.S.S. until 2006. Those were my best years. I qualified for 16 consecutive Classics and won it in ‘02. I won Angler of the Year in 2003, which was the pinnacle for me. AOY, that’s something I and most of the pros hold in the highest regard.”

Yelas, with five victories and 56 Top 10s in B.A.S.S., earned $1.6 million in B.A.S.S. and another million in FLW, where he won two AOY titles and qualified for 11 Forrest Wood Cups. Those accomplishments earned his 2020 induction into the BFHOF.

Albeit trivial but speaking of his longevity, Yelas was proud to have recorded Top 10 finishes in five decades. His latest was a third-place finish on Lake Fork in 2020, and he posted a ninth on Lake St. Clair that year.

“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being back fishing the Elite Series and finishing my career where it started with the best tournament organization in the land,” he said. “I’ve had some good success, but not as good as it was back in my prime. I’m really thankful. I think the world of B.A.S.S. and wish them all the continued success.”

Deciding to hang up his tournament jersey was a difficult decision yet well-thought through — Yelas said he’s prayed about it for some time.

“I’m a man of faith, and God has a plan for all of us,” he said. “I just think it’s His will to serve these kids and families that attend our CAST for Kids events. I just love providing an opportunity for them to enjoy a day of fishing. That’s something that I’m really passionate about now.

“It’s perfect for me, Mr. Rogers — that’s what you called me. (Upon his BFHOF induction, Yelas said he was honored the Daily Limit referred to him as the Mr. Rogers of bass fishing.) It was probably expected Mr. Rogers would one day retire from tournaments just to serve the kids, because that’s really my heart now. I’m really passionate about that. I feel like it’s what God has for me as my next chapter in life.”

Yelas served on the board at the CAST for Kids Foundation before becoming its executive director eight years ago. The nonprofit, an acronym for Catch a Special Thrill, began in 1991 and has held more than 1,140 events and put close to 150,000 disabled and disadvantaged kids on the water.

“It’s growing like crazy,” Yelas said. “This year we’ll have 80 events around the country. It’s an all-time high. We bounced back from COVID really well. We have events in 35 states. Texas has 30 events.”

While Yelas said it’s kind of relief to just be working one full-time job, he’ll still find time to go fishing for fun. Along with bass, he enjoys the steelhead and salmon fishing he’s afforded along the Oregon coast. But his work will always come first.

“I’m excited about it. You see it making a tangible difference in the lives of these kids and families, and that is very rewarding,” Yelas said. “I’ve had my day in the sun on the tournament trail. It’s been a wonderful career. I’m so thankful for it. I’ll fish as long as I live, I’m just not going to be competing on the world’s greatest tournament circuit, the Elite Series.”