The source of Cox’s Sunny disposition

Though it would be impossible for such a man to exist, if ever there was a guy that could kick your teeth in on the water and yet, somehow make you feel good about it afterwards — almost to the point that you’re rooting for him to go out and do it again tomorrow — that would be Elite pro John Cox. 

There’s simply this ridiculously likable quality about the guy. Perhaps it’s his borderline bubbly demeanor, whether at 4 a.m. before launch or after a grueling eight-hour day on the water. Maybe it’s his pure, childlike love of bass fishing that appeals to some jaded part deep within the rest of us. 

Regardless, there’s no debating it’s the way he fishes that has everyone enamored with his success on the water in particular. In the age of forward-facing sonar with five transducers and as many screens on a single boat, watching a guy go fishing in a metal boat with half a skeg and a ripped off transducer just warms the heart. 

To see a guy bold enough to try to compete that way — it’s endearing. And then to see him come in with 20-pound bag after 20-pound bag, it’s infuriating, invigorating and encouraging all at the same time, for both the casual fan as well as his competitors. This is why Cox is so loved by the sport of bass fishing, even by his colleagues he regularly bests. 

Getting happy

But what is the origin of his admirable expertise at extruding slimy green fish from the shallows? And what is the source of Cox’s sunny disposition? It seems they may be one in the same. As it turns out, a bad bike wreck in junior high was the catalyst for both. 

“That was back in my bike jumping days,” said Cox. “It was in seventh grade. At that point and time you think, ‘Man, I’m gonna jump my bike forever.’”

But while attempting to pick up speed for a trick on that near fatal day, Cox’s youthful optimism came crashing down along with his bike. He pedaled fast over the first jump and then went to push his bike down coming into the landing ramp to gain speed. But his tire clipped the ramp, and he wiped out. 

“It hit me right on my head and knocked me out cold. Everybody thought I was dead so everybody left me in the woods.” 

Deserted by his friends and left lying unconscious in the woods, it was a mother’s intuition that likely saved the Floridian’s life. 

“She drove her minivan down through the power lines and found me there passed out. And then she ran me to the hospital. I don’t really remember any of it. I remember looking in the mirror and being back home and having scabs all over my face from the carpet burn.” 

Slurpees and bass fishing

Cox remained at home for the next three months, unable to regain his bearings enough to return to school.

“That’s when I got my Slurpee addiction. I was drinking three or four Slurpees a day. I was loving life. I wasn’t riding my bike so I would fish all day. And then I started thinking, maybe I should do this.”

So this is when Cox found his love for fishing, and a career began to bud that would amass him over $2.5 million in winnings by the age of 38.

As Cox tried to think through how to express the cognitive differences between before and after the bike wreck, he pointed out that he just doesn’t retain what he learns. 

“The thing with fishing, it’s maybe good to not to remember how bad the day before was, or how the hours before were, you know?” 

Having a short memory is indeed an asset in the sport of bass fishing, being able to shake off a lost fish or move beyond a bad decision and quickly refocus on the task at hand. 

“You lose one and you’re like, what? What just happened? I have no idea,” Cox joked. 

So this near-death experience is in large part what brought Cox to bass fishing, and part of what he accredits his ability to go out and just fish the moment to. And while nearly losing his life that day also made Cox more appreciative of the little things, it turns out another brush with death is what fully swung his heart posture to one of gratitude. 

“When I got run over in the boat, that was like 2014 or 2015, that really … I was just thankful everyday after that waking up, you know?”

A boating accident

On the final day of a 2015 national pro tournament on Smith Lake in Alabama, Cox lost control of a borrowed boat which led to a single-boat accident that could have easily cost him his life. 

“My camera guy in the boat was Bryan New (now fellow Elite pro). He flew over my head. I tried to hang on. That boat spun around, and the water hit me in the side and just sucked me right into the engine. Man it knocked me out cold.” 

“I don’t remember any of it really. Bryan and the other camera boat that was following me said I just shot up out of nowhere onto the back deck of the boat, and I just started stripping down, cause I thought the prop cut my leg off. It was terrible. I just had to get some staples in my head, and I had to get a hernia fixed like a few months later. And some veins taken out of my leg.”

This is when it all changed for Cox. The real shift happened. Cox still loved fishing, still does. But he loves just being alive as well. He’s thankful he gets to wake up, something most of us, if not all, take for granted. He’s thankful to be breathing. The bass are a bonus. 

To go along with the example of his life that we should arguably all try to emulate, this man who has tasted death twice leaves us anglers and boaters with a simple word of caution. 

“It seems safe when you’re running around. But you’re running around with giant engines on the back of these little boats and don’t even know where you’re going half the time. Any wrong turn … you know?”