Dream it, believe it, do the impossible.
Fifteen years ago, I entered my first (ABT) Australian Bass Tournament. My mum towed my small boat to a lake 2 hours away from my home in Queensland, Australia. Mum waited the whole day while I fished the event under trolling motor power only. I won Big Bass for the tournament and came in fourth overall in a 60-boat field. On the way home, I looked at my $500 Big Bass check, and it was then I realized this is what I'm going to do for the rest of my life.
I remember it like it was yesterday.
After competing for 10 years on the (ABT) Australian Bass Circuit and winning many events, I stood the highest money earner by double from the next competitor. My final years, I won three Angler of the Year titles. I had done all there was to do in Australian tournament fishing, bar one. I had still not managed to win our Classic. I had never finished out of the Top 10, and several years came in second.
In 2010, I finally did it. This was my year. I won our Classic and AOY and would be soon organizing the expenses-paid trip to America to experience and compete in the U.S. Open on Lake Mead as part of the prize for winning our Classic.
After a year of saving, fundraising and selling everything I owned — including my boat and truck — I was heading back to the U.S. with my rods and reels and two suitcases full of tackle. One of my best friends, my girlfriend of 4 years, drove me to the airport in her little car crammed with tackle. After one of the hardest goodbyes of my life, I set off to take on America for my lifelong dream of competing with the best guys in the world on the Bassmaster Elite Series. I must have been crazy.
Only those who risk going too far will possibly find out how far one can go
Year 2011. After almost 8 months of fishing around California on lakes like Havasu, Mead, the Delta and Lake Pyramid, I realized that the Bassmaster circuit was primarily East, and I had to leave my only U.S. contact, Gary Boyd, who had looked after me and helped me get established in America.
I embarked on a journey across America to watch an Elite Series event on Lake Murray in Georgia. I typed the address into my GPS and started driving. When I was crossing the desert in Arizona, I had no cell service and was driving a beat-up truck I bought from a guy off the side of the road. With my Skeeter in tow, I came to realize that there was actually not a single human being on the planet who knew where I was or what I was doing. Even I’m not sure what I was doing or where I was headed but I just kept driving.
When life hits you, hit back
It is now my fourth year in the U.S. I have fished lakes and tournaments across the country and competed in all divisions of the Bassmaster Opens series. In 2012, I narrowly missed qualifying for the Elite Series by a single point.
During my time in America, there have been many ups and downs. The ups were short and the downs seemed to be deep and last forever. Missing my home, family and friends, financial struggles, Visa issues, obtaining a driver’s license and learning to drive on the other side of the truck and road seemed to be small in comparison to most of the blind sidings I took. Then, to top it off, there was the heartache associated with a string of bottom-of-the-field finishes.
My confidence was shaken. “Do I belong here?” was a question I asked myself daily. I had chosen the loneliest road possible.
The obstacles did their best to send this Aussie home. However, they did not know that they had met their match. There was no quit in me and no chance of turning back.
That was the time that support started pouring in and changed my direction. Hobie Fishing, Millerods, Shimano and Bassman, just to name a few, told me my finest hour is in front of me and committed to support me in my quest. That was the re-ignition I needed.
A lion doesn’t lose sleep over the opinions of sheep
Quitting was simply not an option. To quit and go home would validate the negative. It would validate those who discouraged me and said it could not be done. Most importantly, it would let down the most valuable people in my life — those who believed in me and gave me the confidence to try. This was the starting point of eliminating the words of those who questioned my goal.
Like water running on rock, I will wear it down
Thank you to my dad for these words.
I was under the illusion that my passion and work ethic would get me there on their own. I was wrong. The mountain I was climbing required much more. 2014 was a year of revival and reinvention, total immersion in qualifying for the Elites and never wavering outside of anything that wasn’t putting me a step closer to my dream.
I turned off the TV, stopped watching the news, stopped drawing from the people who didn’t want me to succeed and drew strength from the ones who support me.
I developed a work ethic that I was previously incapable of. Fitness and healthy eating became an everyday routine. Bassmaster TV shows, GoPro footage from each Elite event and Bassmaster Magazines, along with sports psychology books, became my nighttime entertainment. I disregarded excuses, blame, gossip or any negative thought. No such thing as luck or getting unlucky anymore; if I was going to make it, it was up to me. If someone spoke negative, it fell on deaf ears.
My life changed. My positive attitude and ability to disregard the negative resulted in a string of Top 20 finishes, including three Top 12 cuts. These proved to be the finishes that put me in a position I had dreamt of my entire life.
The time for dreaming had passed. The time for doing is now
Arkansas River, Sept. 12, 2014. After my best year yet, I was sitting fourth in the Opens points. Being in fourth with only the Arkansas River in front of me was the position I was wanting. Oh, yeah, and about 40 incredible fishermen who were trying to take it from me.
I put weeks of practice from daylight until dark in the months prior to the event, exploring every inch of the 200 miles of river. If this was not my year, it would not be due to lack of effort. I could not imagine entering an event more prepared. I had no nicks in my line.
I want it as badly as I want to breathe
The 60 days leading up to this event were spent zig-zagging across the U.S. fishing the Northern Opens, the Millerod Rod trip across the North and then sneaking down for visits to the Arkansas River in between. At times, I felt like I was going in circles, logging more than 6,000 miles on my truck and countless hours on my Skeeter/Yamaha.
I started to believe it was possible
I had a great tournament at the Northern Open on St. Clair. I had put five days of practice in and, after the two-day event with some crazy weather and waves, I finished in 27th position leading into my final Central on the Arkansas River. I went back to the hotel room and started packing the truck and boat and left that night for the 18-hour drive to the Arkansas River. I drove all night. It was 5 a.m. and I couldn’t go any longer, but I arrived safe and in time to start practice.
Eager to practice, I immediately retooled all my gear from deep-water to the shallow-water techniques needed to fish the river. I was 100 percent ready when I hit the water Sunday morning. My 4:30 a.m. alarm was coming soon.
Practice went well, and my future was now reliant on my on-the-water decisions. After a quick trip to the top-notch service crew to make sure my Skeeter/Yamaha and all my equipment were perfect, I was ready. Although the crew had no idea what was riding on this event for me, I was treated like Kevin VanDam. I owe the service crew a huge thank you. I did do a lot of damage to my prop, thanks to a rockpile jumping in my way, and spent the better part of the night installing a borrowed one in the rain under the light of my iPhone.
I was eerily calm the morning of the biggest day of my life. Confidence ran through my blood, and I felt ready for any challenge that could be thrown at me. This was the moment I spent 14 years of my life training for. Although the first day went as planned, two missed opportunities resulted in me only weighing in four bass. Sitting in 53rd was not part of my plan, but I had no doubt that I could dig deep and rally on Day 2. My sights were on a Top 12. Although qualifying for the Elites was my ultimate goal, finishing in the cut was in my thoughts for Day 2. Regardless of my first-day weight, it was always going to come down to catching them on the final day.
The harder the battle, the sweeter the victory
The next morning, my phone and Facebook were flooded with encouraging messages from home, family, friends and Elite Series pros I had looked up to my entire career. It was surreal. I had a country, an entire fishing community, watching me. This did not add any pressure; it actually took it away. It gave me strength and the belief that today was going to be my day.
Knowing that duplicating my game plan from Day 1 would result in another 9-pound bag, I drew on instinct and took my plan in a 180-degree turn. I abandoned my area, locked up north 30 miles from Day 1 and took a gamble.
In hindsight, it was not the gamble that I thought. I was “doing what I do.” At the end of the day, most things don’t go to plan. But every day I wake up, I am a fisherman and I plan to go fishing.
Little did I know, the creek that was crystal clear in practice is now rolling chocolate mud. Add to it sideways rain and a 20-degree temperature drop, and I had to go to Plan C. I had never faced these conditions on the Arkansas River.
But I am a fisherman. It was time to go fishing.
Not today, not this time. Today, I take my dream
I was prepared mentally and switching to Plan C came easy. Never once did a negative thought enter my mind. This was my time. At noon, I had 16 Shimano/Miller combos across my deck. After taking a deep breath and thinking, “Carl, if this is your time, why do you insist on making it so short?,” I was thrown a curveball.
My trolling motor was going flat. Panic? That word is no longer in my vocabulary. Adjust — that was the word I was looking for.
Power-Poles came to the rescue. I positioned my boat downwind, dropped my poles and went to work. That curveball was the key to my day. It all clicked when in a matter of 45 minutes, I had five bass. When adversity could have taken me out of the game, it actually told me something. It told me it was time to slow down. The bass were pressured from days of practice and tournament traffic, and slowing down was the key. Jeff Kriet once told me to slow down and decipher the clues that the bass give you. Thanks, Jeff.
The pain of defeat is what will push me to make it
Leaving the area to catch a scheduled lock helped me relax. I knew my livewell did not contain the bag that would get me to my goal, but there was no doubt that I would upgrade in the next 2 hours. In the lock, I tied up to my friend Gene Eisenmann. He and I have worked all year together practicing for this moment. We made sure that this moment would not be foreign to me. It was going to come, and now it is here.
I told him I had 8 pounds. He laughed and said, “At least it’s not time for you to clock out and go home.” I mentioned my trolling motor issues, and it was met with a laugh. Both of us, not a negative thought between us. The rest of the locking process was spent joking around. Gene’s co-angler looked at us puzzled and said, “How do you two find this a good time to joke around, and how are you so calm with this much on the line?”
My answer was simple. “I’m prepared for this moment. I will catch them, so why not have a laugh?”
I’m doing what I love.
As the lock opened, I saw my destiny. I pushed my Skeeter/Yamaha to its limits up the Grand River arm in search of key fish I shook off in practice. I knew they were there. The current wasn’t moving like it should have been. My co-angler and I kept our jackets on and used my Yamaha to move the boat to each area. Power-Poles down, it was time to pick them off.
I quickly upgraded on fish I knew I shook off in practice. The final bass came with 30 minutes to go. As soon as it hit the livewell, my emotions started to take over. Fighting back tears, I had to shut them out and remember not to be content, and to fish until my time is over. Had the impossible been done?
Is it enough? Although I had practiced for this moment, I forgot to practice for the emotion. Sitting here typing, I still can’t come up with the words.
I had to believe that something different could happen
As always, I fished to the death with 30 seconds on the clock. The emotional roller coaster of the year, month, tournament, day and finally the weigh-in of my lifetime was nearing an end.
Adding more to the emotion, one of my mentors and close friends, Fred Roumbanis, walked up as I was bagging my fish. With him looking at me, I was at a loss for words. Fred knew what this meant to me and he, too, had a sense of accomplishment watching me prepare for the moment of truth.
This was the first time in my career that I had to turn around and get my sunglasses to hide the tears.
After weighing in, it was time to sit and wait. It was not clear that I was in. The competition from the guys scratching to get in was unbelievable, and B.A.S.S. had some calculating to do before anything could become official.
Two grueling hours later, tournament director Chris Bowes walked toward me, handed me the piece of paper that I have dreamt of for so many years, along with two simple words: “You’re in!”
The following 5 minutes were filled with indescribable emotion. My phone seemed to go into meltdown mode as messages and well wishes came in. Prior to qualifying I had imagined — almost lived — this very moment possibly thousands of times in my mind. I assumed it would be filled with crazy hugs, screaming and celebration. That did not happen. The moment of truth was met with an exhaustion beyond my imagination.
I guess my motto, “whatever it takes,” came true because it took it all out of me. Many cloudy days came after trying to recover.
Weeks later, I have still not celebrated other than a few quiet moments with friends and many phone calls. I’m back to my routine of CrossFit, preparation and working on my boat for the final Open on Lake Norman.
He who says he can and he who says he can’t are both usually right
I can’t wait to get home and see my family and friends. I think that’s when it will really hit me. When I see those words, “Jocumsen to be the first Australian Bassmaster Elite,” I just shake my head. It seems like a dream come true, and it is.
It’s no longer possible for me to draw strength from the people who told me I can’t. Their prediction failed miserably. What is still sinking in is what is ahead of me. It’s like I have just graduated and now I’m starting my first job. This job will come with millions of challenges and opportunities, and I welcome them.
I’m looking most forward to not what I must achieve but the responsibilities that come with the job. I want to inspire the youth to dream and achieve. I want to represent and bring pride to my country, Australia, on the world stage. I want to continue to make my family and friends proud and be the man they have pushed me to be. I want to represent the sport of bass fishing and B.A.S.S. in the highest light. Most importantly, I want to be in the position to give back to the country, supporters and sport that has given so much to me.
When I arrive for my first Bassmaster Elite event next year, look for me. I will be the one with a smile as big as Australia.