KISSIMMEE, Fla. — As a kid he was the one running around weigh-ins wearing a buzz haircut, Kool-Aid smile, and oftentimes in a t-shirt bearing the name of a sponsor for his famous dad.
Back then he was known by regulars on the Bassmaster tournament trail simply as “Little Alton.”
He’s now grown up with sponsors of his own, a marketing degree from Baylor University, and a seriously grown-up goal of following in his father’s footsteps.
Alton Jones Jr., 22, is set to compete in all three regions of the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens presented by Allstate. Most notably he’ll do it alone, unlike equally as famous fathers and sons competing together in the past, most notably the Daves, Brauer and Hibdon families.
Alton Jones Sr., the 2008 Bassmaster Classic winner and a decorated pro, will be absent, mostly to concentrate on fishing the Bassmaster Elite Series.
That made the send off bittersweet for Alton Sr. and wife Jimmye Sue. They felt the same emptiness as parents sending a child to college for the first time.
“It’s been different and believe it or not, today I had a tingling in my stomach until he weighed in on Day One,” said Alton Sr., referring to the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open. “This is his first potential launch pad into the pro ranks.”
From childhood and until college, Alton Jr. traveled to tournaments with his family. In the process, he received a serious education from one of the sport’s most skilled anglers.
“It would bookend my career for him to do well enough to qualify for the Elite Series,” added Alton Sr.
That’s because up until the rules changed Alton Jr. fished with his dad practically every day of practice. He quite literally grew up on the tournament trail.
Jones’ total immersion in the sport came during an impressionable age. He fished with his father under all kinds of weather conditions and types of water. He learned the nuances of finding fish, clearly the most challenging aspect of tournament bass fishing.
Even so, it took until he reached the age of 16 to truly grasp his future. That happened while fishing the Elite Series season as a co-angler. If timing is everything his career aspiration reached the punctuation point in 2008, when his father won the Classic.
“That was it for me because I dream of winning the Classic,” he said. “To be there and watch your dad win it is a special memory.”
Before and while attending Baylor Jones established himself as a strong competitor in regional Texas tournament leagues. In fact, his winnings are funding his rookie season at the Opens.
Jones has great respect for those ahead of him, with a keen understanding of what’s to come.
“There’s not so much a stage fright factor because I grew up knowing just how good the pros are, while some people might not get to see that until they actually compete.”
Even so, he’s not immune to what every newcomer and rookie to the pro ranks experiences.
“I had butterflies in my stomach, for sure,” he said, of Day One.
So did his dad, when asked the same question of his first day on the tournament trail.