Mossy Oak Bassmaster High School presented by Academy Sports + Outdoors

Jason Williamson paying it forward

Jason Williamson’s accomplishments on the Bassmaster Elite Series compare admirably with some of the most successful anglers of his generation.

Since qualifying 13 years ago for the most competitive bass fishing circuit in the world, the South Carolina pro has two tournament victories, 2009 at Lake Amistad and 2010 at Clark’s Hill Reservoir; a dozen and a half Top 10 finishes; and more than $1 million in earnings.

Those are tremendous highlights, of course, but ask Williamson what the most rewarding moment of his career has been to date, and he’ll mention something other than cashing checks or hoisting a couple big blue trophy over his head.

Instead, the 38-year-old Williamson will tell you that his current side job as coach of the Aiken Youth Bassmasters fishing team is as fulfilling as anything he’s done in a long time.

That’s in large part because of the kids he’s coaching.

The Aiken Youth Bassmasters team is composed of four teenage anglers – Williamson’s two sons Brycen and Landon, his younger brother Dustin and family friend Nathan Boatwright. And though the team is relatively new to competitive bass fishing, its members already are producing results that make the veteran pro and newcomer coach proud.

Brycen, 17, and Landon, 14, were named the Palmetto Boat Center High School Team Trail Anglers of the Year after finishing in the top 10 in each of the league’s tournaments this season. Dustin and Nathan, both 17, also excelled and placed 10th in the AOY standings.

That’s pretty lofty territory, considering the high school trail routinely draws more than 250 boats (500 anglers) per event and lets them match wits on seven of South Carolina’s best bass fisheries.

“It’s pretty successful for our first season,” Jason Williamson said. “I got to boat captain all of them but one. Not a lot of people know that’s consumed my entire life since last fall. I’ve spent many hours as a boat captain, trying to pour what knowledge I have into those guys.”

That’s a lot of knowledge, too.

Williamson began fishing with his own father, Ronnie, when he was a boy and won his first open team tournament when he was 15. He began fishing South Carolina’s local trails and BFL events soon after, learning what he could from Bassmaster Magazine and assorted anglers along the way.

He was 25 when he fished both the Bassmaster Southern and Northern tours in 2006. A year later, Williamson was a rookie on the Elite Series, and he cashed checks in six of 11 events on the schedule.

While Williamson found fishing success at a relatively early age, his sons have additional avenues into competitive bass fishing at an even earlier age, should they choose that route. Youth events, such as those on the PBC High School Team Trail, provide invaluable experience for anglers wanting to fish competitively in college. Brysen and Landon already have won college scholarship money, which their dad said shows how important youth trails can be.

“Brycen would have started (competing) before now, but I’ve been really strict on him to have good grades in order to fish,” Williamson said. “He’s on the Honor Roll now…and once he had some success, he saw how much he actually loved (competing). It really opened his eyes, and he wants his GPA to be high. He wants to get a scholarship to fish at one of these big schools in college.

“It’s worth it for me to put my time in for my children regardless of what scholarship (is out there). But nowadays, it’s even more worth it. You look at Jordan and Matt Lee, you look at Patrick Walters, these guys that are coming from college fishing. It’s super amazing what they’re doing. I’m a little jealous it wasn’t around when I was a kid, but it’s made all of us take notice.”

“All the sponsors out there these days, they recognize who’s done well in college fishing,” he said. “It’s a better path and there’s a lot of opportunity that’s there.”

Despite his own fishing skills, the pro marvels at what his young charges can do on the water. He said Brycen is extremely talented at casting, and Landon puts big bass in the boat with a frequency that belies the fact he’s an incoming high school freshman. Dustin is especially talented with electronics, and Nathan is skilled and (like Landon), can be a bit lucky from time to time.

He said all four have shown maturity and a willingness to learn.

“The biggest difference in our sport is how these kids can use electronics,” he said. “When I came up at 17 years old, I’d run a Lowrance and look at a map. Now, you show them a little bit, they can do more than I can … It’s powerful stuff … just amazing how they can take something and just run with it.”

He is also impressed with the magnitude of the Palmetto Bass Center Team Trail. He knows there are similarly sized organizations in other states, which tells him the future of competitive bass fishing is bright.

“Being our first year of competitive high school fishing, the first thing I noticed was the amount of parents out there,” he said. “The team moms, the boat captains; everybody’s out there in jerseys. They’re playing a part. Some of these high schools have 40 kids or more on them. That’s a lot of people stepping up for these kids to fish. It’s what the youth of America needs.”

And he, whose own schedule is filled with tournaments to fish and appearances to make, is more than happy to do his part to keep the momentum going.

“There has been nothing more fulfilling than to share what knowledge I have,” he said. “I’m not the best fisherman in the world, but I’m pretty good. I’ve made a living for 13 years doing it, and I love what I do.

“To be able to share what I have is incredible to me, especially to be able to do share it with my own family.”