Jay Brainard is one of the most fearless anglers to ever set his sights on becoming a Bassmaster Elite Series pro. His first career, which he began at age 17, was protecting bull riders from bulls at rodeos and freestyle bullfighting.
Brainard would goad an angry bull to repeatedly charge him while narrowly dodging its horns. He became the first man in the U.S. to do a back flip over a charging Mexican fighting bull, from horns to tail, without being touched.
“I did the back flip when a bull first came out of the gate,” Brainard said. “You want him as hot as possible to do that.”
The ability to avoid horns was a necessity on the Oklahoma ranch that Brainard grew up on. He was taught this skill early in life from his father Virun and mother Diane.
“My mother was the first person I ever saw do freestyle with a bull,” Brainard said. “We were walking through a pasture and a bull came after us.”
Rather than run, Brainard’s mother parried the oncoming bull and stepped into its shoulder. This made the bull turn in a tight circle, which it couldn’t do fast enough to harm his mother. Brainard calls this tactic “making rounds.”
“The worst thing you can do when a bull charges is to run,” Brainard said. “The closer you are to the bull the safer you are.”
As lean and athletic as Brainard is, he didn’t get through all of his encounters with bulls unscathed. Among other injuries, he had a partial reconstruction on one side of his face.
The injuries didn’t curtail Brainard’s love for bullfighting. He planned to stay with it until he was 45 and then switch to his second love, which is bass fishing. His initial fishing ventures were outings with his father to farm ponds for crappie and bluegill.
When Brainard was 8 years old, he caught an 8-pound largemouth from his grandparents' pond on a No. 4 black and yellow Mepps spinner. The spinner is his father’s favorite lure.
“That big bass changed everything,” Brainard said. “I’ve been obsessed with bass ever since. I always have a black and yellow Mepps spinner in my boat to remind me of my dad.”
By the time Brainard was 25 years old, the sport of freestyle bullfighting had withered. There were no longer enough bullfighting venues for him to continue making a living at it.
In 2012, when Brainard was 25, he retired from bull fighting and focused on making bass fishing his new career. He began guiding at Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees and fishing local tournaments.
Murphy’s Law did its best to foil Brainard. One of his vehicles was totaled and another was stolen with all of his fishing gear inside. Despite these setbacks, Brainard did well enough tournament fishing that he decided to put all his eggs in the Bassmaster Central Opens basket in 2015.
“The plan is to qualify for the Elites,” Brainard said.
Brainard also longs to win one of the three Central Opens. It would earn him an invitation to fish the 2016 Bassmaster Classic, which will be on his home water, Grand Lake.
Brainard’s commitment to his bass fishing profession is as fearless as his back flip over a Mexican fighting bull. In September of 2014 he married Dalli, a girl he met while working at a rodeo five years ago in her home state of Kansas. Marriage has been the easy part.
Brainard then sold his home in Oklahoma, bought a 32-foot motor home and a bass boat and moved to Florida and Kissimmee Lake three months after being married.
Florida allows Brainard to hone his fishing skills 12 months of the year. He believes this will give him an edge on his competition. By living in the Sunshine State, Brainard will also learn how to catch Florida’s irksome largemouth. He knows this will be critical in future tournaments.
“Dalli is 110 percent behind me,” Brainard said. “She’s working as a veterinarian tech for the time being.”
Initially, Brainard had planned to work as a fishing guide in Florida. When he happened upon an opportunity to pilot an airboat for wildlife tours, he jumped on it.
“That improved my fishing tremendously,” Brainard said.
Guiding and tournament style fishing are nothing alike, Brainard pointed out. When guiding, you must use tactics that ensure the clients catch bass. In Florida, that typically means fishing with live shiners.
“Now I have a lot of time to fish the way I need to,” Brainard said.
The three Bassmaster Central Opens are the only tournaments Brainard intends to fish in 2015. That is proving to be a challenge for him because he was fishing three to four tournaments a week when he lived in Oklahoma.
“I want to have total focus on those three tournaments, especially with the Classic being on Grand Lake,” Brainard said.
He nearly pulled off his Classic bid when he finished second at the Bassmster Central Open at Ross Barnett Reservoir in March of 2015. It was the first Central Open of the year and Brainard’s first Bassmaster Open tournament.
He caught most of his bass by skipping a spinnerbait under docks in a marina.
“Skipping docks is something I absolutely love to do,” Brainard said. “I also love deep and shallow crankbait fishing, any shallow flipping, and I even love to drop shot and finesse. I love it all.”