It’s a proven fact that the B.A.S.S. College program is the ideal path for young anglers aspiring for a professional fishing career. The likes of Justin Atkins, Brandon Card, Brock Mosley, Tyler Rivet and Jake Whitaker, all current Bassmaster Elite Series pros, came through the college ranks.
Another career path is indirectly reachable through college bass fishing, and it can be as equally as rewarding, with endless possibilities for career advancement. The best part of this bass fishing-related career is job stability and financial security.
Meet Brad Rutherford, a former championship angler at Young Harris College, and Kyle Jessie, former president of the University of Arkansas Bass Team. You won’t find either of these young men competing in a pro-level bass fishing league, although the sport is very much a part of their careers.
Rutherford, 31, graduated with a marketing degree, fully intending to apply that formal education in a fishing industry career. The same applies to Jessie, 25, who double majored in business management and sports management with the same goal.
Rutherford is the manager of pro staff and marketing communications for Pure Fishing, while Jessie is a digital content editor for Bassmaster.com at B.A.S.S. Both industry professionals credit college bass fishing for laying the path for reaching their career goals.
After graduation, Rutherford worked a construction trade job for one year, then bass fishing pulled him the opposite direction. After testing the waters by fishing a few pro events, he pursued a more stable career path with a job in the industry.
As a teenager, Rutherford competed in the Bassmaster Junior World Championship, a next step beyond the highly successful Bassmaster CastingKids program. Pure Fishing had product activations at the event, and Rutherford volunteered to help in the booth. That inspired him to volunteer more at outdoor shows or anywhere he could be personally connected with industry reps.
College bass fishing broadened his network of industry contacts, although Pure Fishing remained front and center of his interest for its broad list of legendary brands, and the corporate headquarters based in Columbia, S.C., near his home.
“I had no job experience in the industry, but what did make a difference was my college bass fishing experience,” Rutherford said.
Rutherford won an FLW college championship as a freshman in 2009. He then started the bass fishing team at Young Harris in north Georgia, and was on a committee to organize the 2013 Bassmaster College Championship, headquartered at Young Harris.
Pure Fishing recognized Rutherford’s passion for the sport, his organizational skills as a team leader, and his interest in product promotion and branding. He was hired seven years ago.
“It got me in the door,” he said. “So, it proved to me how valuable the college program can be in laying the groundwork for making connections in the industry.”
Rutherford calls his position with Pure Fishing a “dream job,” and rightfully so. In his early 30s, Rutherford oversees the pro staff for national bass, walleye and saltwater anglers at all levels. He interacts on a daily basis with pro bass anglers that he knew before joining the company. Pure Fishing’s broad brand categories allow him to apply his passion for marketing rods, reels, lines and other product categories.
Jessie’s career epiphany occurred during his sophomore year at Arkansas, where he was the vice president and then president of the championship-caliber team.
“When I was a sophomore, I envisioned myself in a sales or product management role within the fishing industry,” he said. “College bass fishing helped guide my decision, because I was so passionate about the sport.”
Jessie was a student at Arkansas from 2015-2018, and his time on the team, and in a leadership role, inspired him to take his passion to the next level, but not with rod and reel in hand.
Part of his degree requirement was a 400-hour, summer-long internship. He reached out to JM Associates, the television production company responsible for producing “The Bassmasters” TV show, and later, “Bassmaster LIVE” on Bassmaster.com. JM’s studio and production facilities are in Little Rock, Ark., not far from Jessie’s hometown of Hot Springs.
“Everything was equal about why JM was a good fit for me,” he said. “It connected me with JM and the opportunity to learn about media production, which I knew nothing about, with my passion for bass fishing.”
Jessie discovered his career calling during his on-the-job training. Bass fishing, and specifically at its highest level, had a daily presence in his work. He was getting paid to do what he loved to do the most, and learn it from the best in the business.
Jessie’s summerlong internship turned into a freelance job upon graduation in 2019. The next year, he was recruited by B.A.S.S. for a fulltime job in Birmingham, Ala. His job duties involve producing photography and video content at all levels of tournaments for Bassmaster.com.
“I really enjoy it because it takes me back to where I started,” he said, referring to sometimes covering college events. “But more than anything else, I’ve found a truly rewarding career in the industry.”
Rutherford and Jessie share the same advice for high school and college students considering a career in the industry. Don’t be shy.
“I used college bass fishing as a means of networking with anyone and everyone I could meet in the fishing industry,” said Jessie. “The more you are in front of them, visible, the more they will remember your name when you approach them about a job.”
“Start now and demonstrate that you can do more than just fish,” said Rutherford. “Build a network of contacts beginning in high school, volunteer at events, and keep the motivation going through college.”
Jessie and Rutherford are two recent examples of how the B.A.S.S College program is an inroad into a career in the fishing industry. One of the first was Hank Weldon, senior manager of the B.A.S.S. College and High School program. Weldon assembled the first fishing team at the University of Alabama. While enrolled from 2003-2008, he directed all team business, including growing team membership by 20 percent, while laying the groundwork for his eventual job at B.A.S.S.
All three former college anglers, now employed in the industry, served in their respective roles at the Abu Garcia High School Combine, held Oct. 16-17, in Decatur, Ala.
The takeaway is college bass fishing need not be the end of a possible career path through the sport. It can be just the beginning.