After 12 years on the Bassmaster Elite Series, the one thing I can tell you about being a professional bass angler is that it’s rarely easy and never dull.
Each year a hundred or so of us take to the road to live the lifestyle many people envy, but few fully understand. I love the life I’ve chosen and built, but there can be as many downs as ups in the life of a pro angler.
For proof, just look at my ranking in the final Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings. I finished 82nd — my worst season ever. And if you ask me what went wrong, I can tell you a dozen little things that hurt me, but there wasn’t any one big thing that ruined my season.
Fishing at the highest level is like that. The margin between a top finish and being down near the bottom can be very thin. I’ve had some great successes — including top 10 finishes in the AOY race in 2007 and 2014 — and some miserable failures. I’ve qualified for six GEICO Bassmaster Classics, been the bubble boy once and missed completely several other times.
If starting a column after my worst year on tour seems like strange timing, maybe it is, but I know I’m going to bounce back strong next year and qualify for another Classic. That’s just what I did after ending up 79th in 2013. I came back and finished eighth in 2014.
I’m writing this column for a different reason than the other guys who have them here on Bassmaster.com — not because I think my life and career are so special and different, but because they’re a lot more normal than some might think. Also, because I know that my experience might help the next angler who dreams of fishing in the Elite Series.
My path to the sport’s highest level was a little unusual because I never planned to be a bass pro. I grew up planning to play in the NBA.
And I actually turned down the invitation to join the Elite Series when it started in 2006. It was my wife who accepted it without my knowledge. Keri and I had two kids under the age of 5 at that time, and she paid the entry fee deposit without checking with me. I knew exactly two bass pros back then — John Murray and Skeet Reese — and I had never fished a tournament outside the western U.S.
As you can imagine, I had huge doubts about a career in tournament fishing. What I had going for me was an incredibly supportive wife (Keri and I were born about six hours and 1/4-mile apart and have known each other since first grade) and a job as a dairy distributor (they call me “The Milkman” for a reason) where I could set my own hours.
It wasn’t the perfect situation to start a career as a touring pro, but I knew that if I didn’t try it then, I never would … so we took the plunge.
And mostly, we haven’t looked back. Today, we have a third child — Jayden (10) — to go along with Allese (19) and J.C. (16). I finally quit my job in the dairy industry about four years ago after Keri pointed out that Jared the Bass Pro was a lot happier and easier to get along with than Jared the Milkman.
I have sponsors that have stuck by me through good years and bad, and I know a lot more pro fishermen now. We still live in California and probably always will. Living on the West Coast means we have a lot of long road trips, but that’s where our families are, and it will always be home. I’ll put up with a few extra days of driving to keep those roots.
Through this column, I hope to share the road and the lifestyle with you. And if you’re ready to read about the ups and downs of a 6-foot, 4-inch shooting guard/milkman/bass pro who’s been married to his elementary school sweetheart for 22 years, then I promise to throw in some tips and tactics that will put more bass in your boat and maybe even help you get to the Elite Series.