BOSSIER CITY, La. — Sam George is only 21 years old, yet he speaks with the confidence of a much older, wiser tournament angler.
"This season I have had a moment in every tournament when I didn't know precisely what to do," he said. "In those moments I just relied on my gut."
"I set aside whatever distraction, like GPS waypoints or anything else, stood in the way of making a decision."
The payoff so far is two Top 12 championships this season in the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens Series. Last week, George finished 11th on Lake Champlain, narrowly missing an invitation for the 2017 Bassmaster Elite Series.
Going with a gut feeling instead of relying on the props only comes after years of being on the water. He has a head start in both regards. George, of Athens, Ala., started fishing the Bassmaster Weekend Series as a boater at age 17.
He entered any and all tournaments in his home state. Hard knocks were frequent before the ride smoothed out. In 2013, George and partner Greg Buie won the Toyota Bonus Bucks Owners Tournament on Wheeler Lake, their home fishery.
"That win made all of the hard knocks worthwhile," recalled George. "That gave me confidence in knowing I could compete at the higher level."
In 2014, George moved to that level at the young age of 18. He competed in all nine events of the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens. Now in his third season the Alabamian is coming closer to his ultimate goal. That is qualifying for the Bassmaster Elite Series.
George's upbringing is impressive when compared to his resume after just 27 events. He took a deliberate shortcut to get this far, so soon.
"The high school where I live did not have a bass fishing team," he said. "So I started home schooling to have more time on the water."
Home schooling wasn't a first choice and it was a tough one. When other teens had downtime, he was doubling up on lessons and schoolwork. The payoff was extended time on the water. Call it on-the-job training.
"I knew then I wanted to make a living as a pro," he said. "I got to spend more days, ahead of a weekend tournament, learning a lake inside and out."
Alabama has some of America's most diverse and productive bass fisheries. George fished the Tennessee River, mastering the skill of ledge fishing on Wheeler, Wilson and Pickwick lakes. From there it was on to central Alabama to get schooled on spotted bass in the Coosa River. He received an all-around education on many of bass fishing's fundamental techniques.
Coincidentally, one of George's peers chose the home schooling path. That chapter begins with Kip George, his father, who attended Baylor University with Alton Jones, Sr. The two fished through college together as partners on the highly competitive tournament circuits in Texas.
The families grew close and Alton Jr., and George merged their fishing interests. Family trips to Falcon Lake, Texas, were popular. Travels through Alabama found the Jones' staying with their friends. Alton Jr., like George, went through home schooling before graduating with a marketing degree from Baylor University.
"We took a lot of trips together, spent time together," said George, of the bonding experience between the families.
Being around Alton, Sr. fueled George's ambition to follow in his footsteps.
"He was a great mentor to me and I learned so much on and off the water from him," he added.
Today things are more serious. Alton Jr. and George are tournament roommates and travel partners. They are learning the ropes, taking more hard knocks, and ideally learning from rookie mistakes.
"You have to trust the Lord with everything you have, because you are going to go through testing times," admitted George. But when you have a day like I did at Champlain it makes all the blood, sweat and tears worth it."
Returning to familiar water is another advantage of spending time on the tour. The benefit showed itself at Champlain, where George finished fourth place just two years ago.
"I went already having the fundamentals of what to do," he said. "Since then, I've learned that I can only control my fishing, not what everyone else around me is doing."
"I just keep the focus on myself, realizing what I'm doing now is learning," he continued.
"There are so many anglers who mentor me," he said. "It would be incredible to honor everyone for what they have done for me so far."
The good news for George is time is on his side. All he needs is more time on the water.