My Elite work ethic

img_3847-kelly-jaye.jpg

James Overstreet

At the end of the tournament season, many of the Bassmaster Elite Series competitors take a well-deserved break. Some sit on the couch and don’t do much of anything. Some put in substantial amounts of time in a deer stand or a duck blind. Others tinker with tackle and work on new techniques. 

I go right back to work. 

I’m not the only angler in the Elite Series field who has a “second full-time job.” There are several of us who work in between tournaments and during the “off” months, all for reasons of our own. I’ve worked hard to build up my business, and it provides my family with the security we need to live comfortably.

Oddly enough, fishing was the driving force that led me to start Alabama Motor & Pump Service 19 years ago. I was working for another company, doing the same type of work and fishing on the weekends. I’d scheduled some time off for a tournament two months in advance, but when the date arrived we had an emergency at work and I had to cancel my plans. I understood that was one of the requirements of the job, but I also realized that if I was going to have to miss time on the water to work, I wanted to be working for myself. I spent the next two years getting ready to go out on my own, and I haven’t looked back since.

I’m fortunate that my wife Cheryl holds down the fort at home and at work when I’m gone. She handles the books and the customers at the shop, but there are still certain things that require my input, so my phone rings a lot. Earlier in my career, the guys at work needed more guidance and it seemed like they’d call multiple times every day, but it has gotten better since then. 

The job affects my fishing in other ways. During the 2013 season, my first year on the Elite Series, we got called for an urgent job while I was in New York fishing. When the tournament ended, I got in the truck, drove 20 hours straight back to Alabama and got to work. It seemed like one minute I was lifting smallmouth out of the clear waters of the St. Lawrence River and the next minute rebuilding two 25 horsepower sewage pumps for a municipality. That’s not a complaint or an excuse. This is how I’ve chosen to live my life, and I’ll stand by it no matter what anyone says.

While I’m sure there are times when it has hurt my tournament performance, there may also be times when it has helped. I don’t have the pressure of needing to cash a check to pay the light bill like some less-established pros who do nothing but fish. I love fishing, but not that much. Some of those anglers who fly by the seat of their pants are going to have extra cash in their pockets this year due to the improved payout scheme, but it’s not enough to make me give up my business.

In addition to giving me the freedom to not chase checks, the mechanical skills and electrical knowledge I’ve developed at work have bailed me out of multiple on-the-water jams over the years, so it probably evens out in the end.

Cheryl has repeatedly encouraged me to take more time away from the job to focus on fishing, but I just can’t stand to do it. Everything I have is as a result of my business, and my employees depend on me to stay engaged. Additionally, while my two daughters are in college, four years ago we gained custody of my nephew, who is now 7 years old. At a time when I figured I’d be starting to wind down a little bit, it’s back to driving him to ball practice, and I love every minute of it. There will always be guys on tour who can fish every day of the year, but I suppose I’m not destined to be one of them.

After six seasons on the Elite Series, I’m ready to get back after it and achieve some of the goals that have eluded me so far. I like the way this year’s schedule sets up, and I think I’ll benefit from the smaller field size – it should allow me to fish fast and cover water. In case you can’t tell, I don’t like to let grass grow under me.

After the 2017 season, I missed the Bassmaster Classic cut by five points, and that still hurts. At some point during the year I missed a fish or overlooked something that would’ve put me in fishing’s most prestigious tournament. This year, I want to do everything I can to make sure that I qualify for my first Classic.

I also desperately want to hoist one of those blue trophies after an Elite Series win. I’ve come close before. In 2017, I led on Champlain until the last two hours of the tournament, and I had another shot this year on Kentucky Lake, but both times I fell a little short. I’m just going to keep on working and grinding until I manage to close one out. 

The day after that win, when I return home, I might even take a day off work. Then again, based on my past actions, I’m pretty sure I’ll be back in the office as soon as I can.