Bassmaster Elite Series rookie John Soukup has a story that’s almost too complicated to tell in one part. It’s better split into sections — even if the sections don’t always seem to fit together.
There was his early childhood when he was fascinated by his father’s koi farm and actually used the English language for the first time by saying the word “fish.” There was his later childhood, when he says his father introduced him to fishing through “crappie docks, belly-boating and creeks.”
“We could never afford a gas-powered motor,” Soukup said.
Then there were his late teens and 20s — that time when many dedicated anglers decide to make a legitimate run at a career in pro fishing. That’s when everything came to a halt for the 6-foot-5 mountain of a man from Oklahoma.
“I dropped out of college at 19 and became a tile setter to pay the bills,” he said. “My wife, Molly, and I got married and had a lot of responsibilities at a very young age, including taking care of her dad until he passed away of cancer.”
After being an obsessed angler for much of his life, Soukup didn’t fish at all from ages 19 to 27. For part of that time, he and Molly lived in a 19-foot travel trailer with no heat, air or running water.
There was no choice to make. Life and the work that accompanied it had to come first.
Soukup finally started fishing again when he discovered the B.A.S.S. Nation at 27. He promptly won the Oklahoma state championship and qualified for the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship.
From there, he fished hard with the Nation, qualifying again for the
championship and missing other golden opportunities to qualify due to work. He became a local legend, dominating the weekend trails and winning Angler of the Year in the BFL Okie Division.
But still, the dream of being a professional fisherman — the one he had written reports about in grade school — burned inside him.
“My line was always that I was a closet professional, and one day I’d come out,” he said.
His chance to turn pro finally came when he received an invitation from the upstart National Professional Fishing League. He won two of that league’s first three events in 2021 and, riding that confidence, decided to jump in his first Bassmaster Open fishing as a boater — the 2021 Central on Grand Lake — where he placed fourth.
That led to him fishing all nine Opens in 2022 — and his finish in the overall standings earned him an Elite Series berth.
Now, with four children at home, he understands the chance that lies before him. The title sponsor on his boat wrap for this season will be “The Bass Tank” — an electronics dealership company he founded with his good friend Scott Palmer that prides itself on unparalleled customer service, support and education.
He already has two gigantic trophies from the NPFL ranks, and he hopes to add more from the Elites while taking his company to the masses.
He’ll be 41 when the season kicks off, and he sees it as a badge of honor.
“I’ve got some pride in my age,” he said. “I’ve been through some stuff, lived through some stuff. I’m proud to have survived, just to be here.”