DANDRIDGE, Tenn. — Gerald Sensabaugh has a lofty goal in mind for his bass fishing career.
The former NFL pro aspires to become the first “two-sport” athlete in professional bass fishing.
Sensabaugh already knows the nuances and frustrations of a rookie season in a professional sport. He’s enduring it now at the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open #1 presented by Allstate at Douglas Lake.
He went through it once before on the football field in 2006, his rookie season as a safety with the Jacksonville Jaguars, for whom he played four seasons. In 2009 he signed with the Dallas Cowboys. While there he enjoyed the best successes of his pro career until retiring in 2013.
Sensabaugh’s job on the football field was snatching interceptions and tackling fast-breaking runners. He did it well. Away from the gridiron life was all about bass fishing. It’s also what led him to a chance meeting with a Bassmaster Elite Series pro that sparked his competitive spirit.
That happened in 2011 on a weekend trip with friends to Gatlinburg, Tenn. Sensabaugh convinced his buddies to go bass fishing on nearby Douglas Lake. No one in the group was skilled enough to go solo. A late night search for a guide ended with a call to Ott DeFoe.
Sensabaugh knew the name from watching him on The Bassmasters TV show and related website. He was star struck.
“To see him perform the way he did was amazing,” said Sensabaugh. “He caught fish after fish and his competitive drive really got me.”
So did DeFoe. He convinced Sensabaugh to take the leap and trade his ailing aluminum rig in for a full-sized fiberglass bass fishing machine.
The big rig found its way to Dallas, where it was seen on a regular basis in the parking lot of the Cowboys training facility.
“Oh yeah, I’d take it to work and then go out fishing after practice,” said the amicable Sensabaugh.
He fished area lakes and eventually ventured to Lake Fork. The big bass bite at the famed trophy fishery led him elsewhere. His bass fishing footprint widened to Sam Rayburn Reservoir. Sensabaugh began fishing tournaments. His competitive juices started flowing the opposite direction from the football field.
By now, you get the picture of where this story is going.
Sensabaugh wears the colors of his former team and his jersey number on his bass boat. The wrap features the number “43” alongside the unmistakably recognized blue star of the Dallas Cowboys. Bending the ultra-strict rules of NFL licensing took some effort.
“I had to work with the organization to make it happen,” he added. “They were good about it and I really like wearing the team colors on my boat.”
Sensabaugh has more in mind than paying homage to his former team. He’s a savvy marketer, like many aspiring bass pros.
“It allows me to merge two popular fan sports into one,” he said. “Co-branding with tackle companies is a move I thought could be of benefit to me.”
Meanwhile, Sensabaugh knows it takes more than marketing to successfully take his game to the pro ranks of bass fishing.
Most of the time you’ll find him smiling, cutting up with fellow anglers and asking a lot of questions. He’s having fun but in a serious way.
“I would really like to qualify for the Elite Series, make the Classic,” he said. “Man, what a dream that would be.”
As he did in pro football the journeyman bass pro knows getting there requires the same attributes.
“It’s a learning process and that takes time.”
Sensabaugh is all about it allowing that to fall into place. After all, he’s been a rookie pro elsewhere before.