We often associate a co-angler as someone who is a less experienced angler who is trying to learn and gradually make the move to the front of the boat. That is not the case of the 2020 Falcon Rods Bassmaster Opens Co-Angler of the Year Jeff Queen.
The 56-year-old Queen of Catawba, N.C., has spent the majority of his life fishing tournaments in North Carolina with great success. Over the years, Queen has fished with and against the likes of Bryan Thrift, Tracy Adams, Hank Cherry and David Williams. Fishing out of the back of the boat was a new challenge for Queen in 2020.
“It was a totally different experience. I have only fished as a co-angler a few times in my entire life,” Queen said. “At Toho on the first day of the season, I hopped up and threw the trolling motor down without thinking.”
Fishing as a co-angler presents many obstacles. You often have little room to make casts, or in some cases you have all the room in the world but you are casting into open water with nothing around. To ask someone who is used to fishing at the front of the boat to fish as a co-angler for an entire season is not an easy proposition. Queen took the challenge of fishing as a co-angler and made the most of it.
“It was tough at times because as a co-angler you have so little control over what’s going on. I always encouraged my pro and helped out in any way I could,” Queen said. “You fish a lot of hours when you pretty much know you’re not going to get a bite because you’re put in a position where you just can’t. You have to stay mentally focused to say that there will be an opportunity for you to catch some fish.”
Queen also owns Queen Custom Tackle, a tackle company that focuses on innovative fishing lures. Being able to throw his own products behind his professionals gave Queen an advantage, he feels.
“Even though I’m fishing behind some of the best pros in the world, there were times where I felt like I had a bait that was a little bit different and would get me bites behind my pros,” Queen said. “I’ve done so much testing with my lures, and I truly believe that gave me an advantage.”
As a full-time engineer, Queen is an extremely calculated angler and that translates to how he designs his lures. Queen even mentioned that the first thing he does when he shows up to the boat ramp is to find a crawfish from under the rocks. Then, he ties his jig skirts to match its color.
Although winning the co-angler AOY was a huge accomplishment, Queen admits that it wasn’t the most important thing that happened in 2020. Queen’s greatest joy came from watching his son, KJ Queen, qualify for the 2021 Bassmaster Elite Series through the Bassmaster Eastern Opens.
“The whole reason I even agreed to do the co-angler thing was to hang out with KJ and travel around. I basically did it just have a good time with him,” Queen said. “We roomed with John Garrett and Cody Huff all year, and it was amazing to see how good these young guns are. I’ve fished tournaments for over 40 years, and I don’t know that I’ve ever been as intense as those boys are.”
KJ Queen, John Garrett and Cody Huff have all had prestigious careers fishing the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series. All three attended Bethel University.
Getting the opportunity to practice fish with KJ and share information with Garrett and Huff throughout the season really helped Queen feel like he was dialed in before the tournament ever started. No matter how his professional wanted to fish, Queen always felt confident that he would be able to catch them.
“I never had to second guess what was going on during the event because KJ and I fished all the depths in practice and fished all over the lake,” Queen said. “When I drew my boater, I’d basically ask if they were going shallow, deep, north or south and from that point I could throw four or five rods in the boat and a small tacklebox and be good to go.”
In 2021, Queen plans on fishing the Bassmaster Southern Opens as a boater as well as possibly a few other Opens in different divisions. His son KJ plans on returning the favor by traveling with him to as many Opens as he can and actually fishing as a co-angler in those events.
“It’s going to be pretty interesting,” Queen said. “I really think (KJ) will continue to learn from fishing from the back of the boat.”