It’s hard to miss Joey Cifuentes when he weighs in at a Bassmaster event thanks to the prominent cowboy hat he wears on stage. It is a literal tip of the hat to one of his primary sponsors, Cowboy Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram in Cifuentes’ hometown of Clinton, Ark.
The headgear is more than a promotional gimmick. When Cifuentes isn’t competing in a bass tournament, he works on his family’s Angus cattle farm. A cowboy hat often shields him from the sun when he’s doing the countless chores involved with raising livestock.
“On a farm there’s always something that needs to be done,” Cifuentes said.
One of the most memorable times he wore his wide-brimmed hat at a tournament is when he nabbed second place during the first Bassmaster Open of 2022 at the Kissimmee Chain. He caught 28 pounds, 10 ounces on Day 1, which is one of the top 15 heaviest limits ever at a Bassmaster Open.
In addition to the $25,500 payday, Cifuentes earned a passel of points that set him up for a Bassmaster Elite Series invitation. At the next two Southern Opens, Cifuentes finished his goal of qualifying for the Elite Series. He landed a top 20 finish at Cherokee Lake and finished 45th on Lake Hartwell.
Though he’s joining the Elites in 2023, Cifuentes didn’t get serious about tournament fishing until after he graduated from Southern Arkansas University. His first love was playing baseball, and he was good enough to be a pitcher on his collegiate team.
“I got a bachelor’s in science, but my degree was really in baseball,” he said.
Although baseball was priority one for Cifuentes, he has been fishing since he was a tad. For the first 15 years of his life he lived in Lithia, Fla., near his grandparents, Mary and Arnold Goins. They lived on a small chain of lakes that Cifuentes fished from a small aluminum rowboat. He would dig mussels from the lake bottom, strip the meat from the shells and use it as bait to catch bass and panfish.
He graduated to casting gear at age 8 and became enamored with frog fishing. His fake frog duped bass as heavy as 7 pounds. That fell short of 9-pound “Big George” caught by his cousin Caleb Goins on a purple worm.
His father, Joe, often took him fishing to saltwater flats on Florida’s Gulf side for redfish, snook and trout. Snook were his favorite because he and his father used bass fishing tackle to catch them.
“Fishing for snook is like bass fishing on steroids,” he said.
After moving to Arkansas, Cifuentes played baseball at South Side Bee Branch High School. He befriended teammate Logan Williams, who was an avid bass angler. They began fishing evening tournaments at Greers Ferry and competed two or three times a week during the summer of their senior year.
“I didn’t know anything about tournament fishing,” Cifuentes said. “I learned a lot from Logan.”
Williams and his father, “Doc” Alvin, played a significant roll in Cifuentes’ tournament progression. Doc was the veterinarian for Cifuentes’ family cattle business and was a close friend of bass fishing legend Larry Nixon. The Williams introduced Cifuentes to Nixon, who took a liking to him.
Nixon invited Cifuentes to travel to tournaments with him and compete as a co-angler. Cifuentes was at a crossroads. He had been seriously thinking of continuing his education to become a physical therapist. The opportunity to learn from one of the most accomplished bass tournament anglers in history won out. Cifuentes soaked up priceless bass fishing knowledge when he practiced with Nixon prior to the tournaments.
Nixon taught him well. Their first events were in the Everstart Series. He won his second event, which was at Sam Rayburn. The following season he competed as a co-angler on the FLW Tour. In his second season there he won a tournament at Beaver Lake.
The next year he competed on the FLW Tour as a boater. He then transitioned to the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit. His winnings over this period total nearly $350,000.
In 2019 and 2020, Cifuentes fished the central division of the Bassmaster Opens with his eye on qualifying for the Elite Series. He fell short and did not compete in the 2021 Opens.
“My goal is to make the Bassmaster Elite Series,” Cifuentes said in 2022. “It’s such a prestigious organization. And, your sponsorships really go up when you make that league.”
Cifuentes’ family includes his wife, Gwen, and two daughters, Stella and Jovi.
His sponsors in 2022 were Berkley, Abu Garcia, PLANO, Power-Pole, Mercury, Phoenix Boats, veteran owned TRC Covers (rod sleeves and lure covers), Cowboy Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram and Circle S Kennels.