MUSKOGEE, Okla. — Australia’s first Bassmaster Elite Series pro is turning into a national sports sensation in a country where bass don’t even exist.
Last Saturday, Carl Jocumsen, 29, of Toowoomba, Queensland, sealed his fate as the first Australian to qualify for the Bassmaster Elite Series. He did that with a third-place showing in the final point standings of the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Opens presented by Allstate.
Since then he’s experienced a deluge of attention from Australian media and across social media. He is making national news headlines. His fan base now includes people who don’t fish. The attention is more befitting of an Olympic athlete.
Earning the Elite Series invitation is the culmination of a three-year campaign that began June 2, 2011. On that date, Jocumsen weighed his first fish on the Bassmaster scales as a co-angler at the Southern Open on Tennessee’s Douglas Lake.
In an interview for Bassmaster.com, Jocumsen said his goal was to qualify for the Elite Series. We’ve heard this before. Yet Jocumsen already showed his potential on American waters and even sooner back home.
Australia’s premier lure-taking sportfish is the barramundi. You can catch them on the same lures used for bass. There’s even a thriving tournament organization there called Australian Bass Tournaments (ABT).
Here’s where the story begins sounding familiar. At age 15, Jocumsen convinced his mum to drop him off at local lakes to go “bass fishing.” It’s where he discovered his competitive nature while fishing from a tiny boat. For the next decade, he fished ABT events until he dominated the tour.
In 2008, he won the Australian Bass Fishing Championships, the American equivalent of the Bassmaster Classic. The win included an expenses-paid trip to compete in the 2009 WON BASS U.S. Open.
His third-place amateur division finish there paled by comparison to what happened next. Elite Series pro Fred Roumbanis was his final-day partner. Roumbanis was so impressed with Jocumsen that he invited him to join him on tour. Jocumsen accepted and fished his way across America while honing his skills with a master of the game.
“When everyone else said it was impossible for me to do it, he was the one who told me I had what it takes,” he said. “Fred and (his wife) Julie are my best friends over here, and I owe them so much.”
The bond between them would eventually bring Jocumsen back to America sooner than planned.
The quest begins
Jocumsen got serious about his Elite Series quest in 2011. Upon landing after the 28-hour flight from Australia, he got behind the wheel of a truck and new Skeeter/Yamaha bass rig. He drove it cross-country to Columbia, S.C., site of the Elite Series event on Lake Murray.
Reuniting with Roumbanis and witnessing the Elite Series firsthand revved Jocumsen’s competitive mind into overdrive. He stayed until the expiration date of his tourist visa, having fished Open and Elite Series events as a co-angler and Marshal.
Jocumsen returned in 2012, this time to compete as a pro in the Central and Northern Open divisions. Four Top 20 finishes put him in contention to qualify for the Elite Series from the Central Open series.
It didn’t happen.
He was in fourth place in points — two spots ahead of the Elite Series cut — at the final Central Open on Oklahoma’s Fort Gibson Lake. He finished 31st there, and after the final points tally, he fell to ninth place.
The next year was a bomb. Looking back, it was the best of a worst-case scenario.
“The best thing to ever happen to me was not making it in 2013,” he recalled. “It gave me a realistic comparison between success and failure.”
The silver lining came at the final Central Open held on Ross Barnett Reservoir. After going all season through both divisions without a check, he cashed in big.
“The fourth place finish there gave me the motivation I needed in the off-season,” he said. “It carried me through to 2014 to give me hope.”
The pressure builds
Fans and anglers understand the tremendous pressure on newcomers to the professional side of bass fishing. Jocumsen felt it from another angle.
He spent thousands of dollars to secure a P visa, a temporary employment visa of the United States granted to alien athletes, artists and entertainers. His came with an expiration date of 2014.
He faced two choices. Make the cut — or go home.
This year he went for broke, fishing all nine Open events spread across three divisions from south Texas to upstate New York.
“Whatever I was doing, every single day, was about helping me qualify,” he said. “It’s that total immersion that made all the difference.”
That included diet and exercise. Jocumsen embraced CrossFit, the barbell-and-burpee-heavy regime that employs grueling “workouts of the day.” He shunned staying in hotels, opting instead to rent homes equipped with kitchens to cook healthy meals.
The holistic approach included intense study about how successful athletes cope with mental pressure.
“I spent just as much time learning about the mental side as I did the mechanics of the techniques,” he said.
Sixteen-hour days of gear preparation, fishing and body conditioning were common. Down the home stretch, he drove 8,000 miles in just six weeks while practicing at tour stops and testing a signature line of rods with Ian Miller of Millerods.
The turning point
Jocumsen’s last shot was the Central Open on the Arkansas River, immediately downstream from where the Elite Series card slipped from his hands in 2012.
Jocumsen had one bass in the livewell at 2:15 p.m. on Friday, the second day of the Open. At best guess, he needed at least 12 pounds to make the cut. Time was running out with a check-in time of 4:45 p.m. counting down the chances. The wind changed directions, blowing the wrong way, while his area muddied too much to fish.
And then it got worse. The trolling motor batteries went cold.
“I lost my most important piece of gear,” he said. “Since I was 15 years old, I had been training for that very moment.”
That very moment would end in two hours. Another mentor, Hydrowave’s Gene Eisenmann, tied up beside Jocumsen as they locked back into the river from Kerr Reservoir.
Einsenmann’s co-angler listened to Jocumsen’s tragedy in the making. He was awestruck at the response as the bad luck unfolded.
“I told him I knew exactly what I needed to do,” said Jocumsen. “I knew where I was going, what I was going to throw and how to execute to make it happen.”
Studying the mental side of the game paid off. Jocumsen went back to his Australian roots, where light tackle and clear water rule the game. He used both to fill a limit and upgrade two fish.
Final weight: 11 pounds, 15 ounces.
And then the wait began once again. Jocumsen endured two hours of mental anguish until getting the good news from B.A.S.S.
The Green Card
Jocumsen will certainly get a hero’s welcome when he goes home next month for the first time since December. He won’t stay long.
He will return to begin planning for next season, even though it’s six months away. He’ll collaborate with Skeeter Australia and Yamaha to build his Elite Series boat. Millerods of Australia is introducing a line of Jocumsen-designed bass rods. And he’ll no doubt market himself to American sponsors. Hobie Fishing will certainly remain on board.
The top priority is obtaining a Green Card. He must come back to complete the paperwork — 3 inches thick of it, he said — to complete the application for submission through attorneys.
Twenty-five B.A.S.S. events and 500 pounds of bass later (that’s his total weight), it looks like Jocumsen will carry two cards with equal value to him.
Reality set in the day following the good news.
“I asked Fred where we go first on the schedule,” he said. “It was a moment we’ll never forget.”
Next year, ESPN Australia plans to discontinue televising The Bassmasters TV series. A nationwide petition just started circulating to keep the show on the air — in a country where bass don’t even exist.