Brock Mosley after the storms

Everyone’s life has storms — those moments when things go to hell in a handbasket and the future looks grim. The most important thing isn’t what happens during the storm, but more so, what we do afterward.

Bassmaster Elite Series angler Brock Mosley, 33, has had a few hellbenders roll through his life, befitting a guy who lives a few hours from the gulf coast. But Mosley has fought his way through the tough times, and we’re seeing the results in a spectacular run of tournament fishing.

During the 2021 Elite season, Mosley had four Top 10 finishes, including two second places, and finished fifth in the 2021 Classic. (Mosley also placed second twice in 2017.) In 2020, Mosley made three Top 10s and was fourth in the Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings. That’s seven Top 10 Elite finishes in the past two seasons (or 18 tournaments), which is more than any of his peers.

Given that kind of success, it’s possible Mosley, of Collinsville, Miss., is the most under-the-radar star on the Elite Series. Perhaps it’s because he’s a quiet, humble guy who puts his head down and goes to work. Or maybe it’s because he’s been through enough hard times that he doesn’t get overly excited or flashy when things go well. This story is a look into the life-altering events that shaped the man he is today.

The early years

“I didn’t have the best childhood,” said Mosley. He says this almost apologetically, mentioning that he’s not asking for sympathy or using it as an excuse for anything.

Mosley’s parents went through a rough divorce when he was 8 or 9 years old. And for a while, he was an angry young man.

“I was hotheaded,” he said. “It’s a miracle I didn’t go to jail — I’d fight anybody that wanted to fight me.”

Mosley channeled some of that anger into sports and had success. But in the ninth grade, a freak accident nearly ended his playing days. Mosley was a wide receiver when, during practice, a close friend violently slammed into him after the play was over, separating his hip and breaking his pelvis. Today, that’s called the Bo Jackson injury and it ended Jackson’s football career. Mosley barely skipped a beat. Doctors installed a plate in his hip, and after six months of rehab, Mosley was eventually faster than before the injury. And he ended up playing all four years of high school football.

Mosley was also a talented baseball player, where he roamed the outfield. As a senior in high school, his batting average was .415, and he went on to play in college, two years at East Mississippi Community College and one year at Delta State. But something wasn’t quite right with him and baseball.

“I loved baseball, but for a while I was doing it to make my dad happy,” he said. “Eventually, I figured out I was ready to do something for me. I fish because I love it.”

Mosley finished up college at Ole Miss, where he graduated with a degree in business marketing. No longer playing baseball, he had time for his first love, fishing. Mosley joined the Ole Miss fishing team and won a Bassmaster College Series Regional.

Mosley first thought of fishing professionally as a 5-year-old, when his dad took him to a Bassmaster Classic in Birmingham. Now, fishing would indeed be his future.

The turning point

Mosley eventually made the Bassmaster Elite Series via the Southern Opens in 2015. But his 2016 Elite rookie season was anything but a dream come true. Mosley finished 101st in the AOY race. And 2017 was headed in a similar direction when he finished 95th in the season-opener at Cherokee Lake and 101st four tournaments later at Sam Rayburn. Then something magical happened.

“Honestly, I was down to my last dime,” Mosley said describing the summer of 2017. “I was beginning to think this Elite dream might be done. But I was also thinking, ‘If this is God’s plan for me, then it will all work out.’ I said that every day.”

Mosley and Drew Benton, another young Elite who played college baseball, decided they’d stay up North after the Bassmaster Northern Open on New York’s Oneida Lake.

“We wanted to learn Northern fishing,” he said.

It was essentially a three-week vacation where the two friends fished every day. They spent time on Lake Champlain, the St. Lawrence River and more time on Oneida.

The time up North paid off in ways that still resonate today. Mosley finished second at St. Lawrence, 42nd at Champlain and second at Lake St. Clair. In one month he made $70,000 in tournament earnings and sponsor incentives.

There was one unlikely beneficiary for the newfound cash. Mosley and his wife, Leslie, had a ­1-year-old Labrador retriever with elbow dysplasia. The cost to fix the elbow would be $3,000.

“We just couldn’t afford it,” said Mosley. “It was killing us. We didn’t have kids then and she was like a child to us.”

But there in Waddington, N.Y., the Mosleys’ financial picture suddenly got brighter.

“I called my wife backstage and said, ‘Get it fixed,’” he said.

“I was looking to God for answers and He gave them to me. This must be what I’m meant to do.”

A strong southern woman

Mosley had known Leslie Martin (later Martin-Mosley) most of his life. They grew up in the same small church in Collinsville, Miss., and attended the same schools.

“But I never thought of her that way,” he said.

Mosley didn’t have an idyllic childhood but has always loved to fish.

That all changed one weekend while Mosley was attending Ole Miss. He decided to head back to Collinsville to attend a friend’s party.

“I almost never went home in those days,” he said. “I happened to text her and she was going to the same party. We’ve been together ever since.

“Leslie has been the constant for me,” he said. “She brought stability to my life, which I’d never had before.”

That stability finally gave Mosley an opportunity to thrive. The young couple lived in a mobile home for many years so Mosley could pursue his fishing dreams. And Leslie worked as a dyslexia counselor for the local school system. Her health insurance solved one of the challenges of a fishing career.

“She has supported me every step of the way,” said Mosley. “She’s never questioning whether I should get a more stable job.

“Honestly, she’s Heaven-sent.”

St. Lawrence 2020

Since those hardscrabble early days the couple has had two daughters; Millie James is now 2 1/2 years old and Gradi Lynn is almost a year old as of this writing.

Gradi Lynn’s birth exposed one of the hardest parts of being a professional angler. That’s time away from the family. Her July due date coincided with the 2020 Elite Series tournament on the St. Lawrence River in upstate New York. Mosley was 1,300 miles away from home when his wife went into labor. And he was a mess.

In practice, Mosley was so worried he could barely fish. So, he simply went out and did something he was comfortable with, something that wouldn’t require much brainpower. He fished for largemouth bass around docks, a strategy all Southern anglers are very comfortable with. Keep in mind, the St. Lawrence River is one of the most legendary smallmouth fisheries in the world. It’s safe to say the rest of the Elite field was focused on the big smallies out in the current.

This chapter does have a happy ending. The Mosleys’ healthy baby girl was born the day before the tournament started, and both Leslie and Gradi Lynn came through with flying colors. Perhaps feeling a huge sense of relief, Mosley caught 20 pounds of largemouth in the first hour of the tournament, again fishing docks, and ended up finishing the tournament in third place.

But this story really isn’t about fishing. The St. Lawrence and Gradi’s birth was another storm Mosley survived.

“That was one of the hardest things in my career, not being there for the birth of my child,” he said. “If something happened, I could have never forgiven myself. If I could go back in time, I’d probably change my decision on that.”

The whole ordeal did give him a deeper appreciation for his wife.

“If something happened to Leslie … I mean, she’s all I’ve got,” he said.

The next hurdle: consistency

Early in his professional fishing career, Mosley asked Elite veteran John Crews how long it took him to feel like he had “made it.” Crews told him six years.

Mosley just completed his sixth season, and he’s feeling good. He said he’s fishing more relaxed, in part because he’s not as stressed about finances and making cuts.

“I did the same thing in baseball,” he said. “Every time I moved up a level it took me a while to adjust.”

As he’s gotten more comfortable, Mosley has become more aggressive, and at other times he goes against the grain — doing the opposite of what most of the field is doing. Here’s a recent example of each.

Aggression: At the 2021 Sabine River tournament, Mosley made the risky decision to run two hours to Houston. That’s risky because a four-hour round trip leaves little time for fishing. And if the angler has equipment problems, he may not make it back to weigh-in. Mosley said if he’d been worried about bills at home or just making a check, he would have played it safe and stayed closer to the takeoff site in Orange, Texas. Sometimes the greatest risks deliver the biggest rewards. That was the case for Mosley; he finished in second place at Sabine.

Going against the grain: On Day 1 of the 2021 Neely Henry tournament, Mosley was No. 92 in the takeoff order. He figured all of the spots he wanted to fish were already taken, so he simply steered his boat into the first area that was open, a tiny inlet just a few feet behind the takeoff dock. Every other Elite angler had passed that spot. Mosley quickly caught 10 pounds there, which turned into a ­16-pound, 15-ounce day and ultimately an eighth-place finish.

“I wasn’t a natural at baseball and I’m not a natural at fishing,” said Mosley. “I spent more time in the batting cage than other guys, and I work really hard in practice for fishing tournaments.”

As evidence of that work ethic, this interview took place during a practice day for the 2021 Guntersville Elite tournament where Mosley fished from 5:30 a.m. until after dark that day struggling to find fish. That’s nearly 15 hours of grinding.

Mosley sees Gerald Swindle’s career as one he’d like to emulate. Swindle has never won an Elite tournament, but he has two Angler of the Year titles. Mosley admires the consistency Swindle has displayed over the course of a long career.

Mosley had that kind of consistency in 2020, when he finished fourth in AOY. But his 2021 season has been wildly inconsistent. He’s had four Top 10 finishes this year, a 32nd-place finish at Lake Fork and a 30th-place finish at St. Lawrence River. But Mosley also finished near the bottom of the pack twice, with an 89th-place finish to start the year at the St. Johns River and a 91st-place finish at Lake Guntersville in May. He was third in AOY before Guntersville, but the stinker at G-ville dropped him all the way to 15th. He ended the season in 14th place.

“Now I don’t have to worry about AOY,” he said after Guntersville. “When we go up North, I can just relax and go fishing.”

And that may be when Mosley is most dangerous.

The storms that blow through our lives can break us or make us stronger. Either way, they have a way of influencing the rest of our days.

“I’m really glad those hard times are in the past,” Mosley said. “But I’m not going to forget them. They make us who we are.”

Originally appeared in Bassmaster Magazine 2021.