The bass fishing team at Tennessee’s Bethel University is a perennial powerhouse. It comes as no surprise that some of the university’s angling alumni are on the path to becoming Bassmaster Elite Series pros.
This includes North Carolina’s 23-year-old KJ Queen. In the summer of 2019 he graduated from Bethel with a bachelors in business and a Ph.D. in bass tournament fishing.
With the first four Bassmaster Open tournaments of 2020 under his belt, Queen finds himself in 10th place in the Falcon Rods Bassmaster Opens Angler of the Year standings.
Queen lives in Catawba, N.C., which is where he grew up and got hooked on fishing. His father, Jeff, and grandfather, Carroll, started him bobber fishing before he was 3 years old. He fished his first tournament with granddad Carroll when he was 7.
“It was a night tournament,” Queen recalled. “It was cold when we showed up at the ramp, and I really didn’t want to fish. We ended up winning. That sparked my interest in tournament fishing.”
From age 8 until high school, Queen fished local tournaments nearly every weekend with his father. Lake Norman was a regular venue. The tournaments there attracted many of the top local sticks, including current Bassmaster Elite Series pros Hank Cherry, Matt Arey, Shane Lineberger and Shane LeHew.
“Guys like that inspired me to fish better,” Queen said.
While attending Bandys High School in Catawba, Queen and his older sister Chelsey joined the bass fishing team and paired up to fish the tournaments. Their father served as the boat driver. In 2012 and 2013 they finished third in the TBF high school world finals. They also qualified for the FLW high school nationals held at Beaver Lake where they nabbed seventh place.
Besides bass fishing, Chelsey played basketball and volleyball in high school. She takes after her mother, Beth, who played basketball for Appalachian State and was inducted into that university’s hall fame.
Chelsey received fishing and volleyball scholarships to Bethel. When Queen graduated from high school three years later, he also received a fishing scholarship to attend Bethel.
While in high school, Queen competed in tournaments with his father and as a co-angler at every opportunity. He qualified as a co-angler to fish a major championship tournament at High Rock Lake, which was slated for the same day as his high school graduation ceremony.
“I wanted to fish the tournament more than I wanted to walk across the stage and get my diploma,” Queen said. “My parents agreed to let me fish instead. I won the tournament and got a check for $2,500.”
While on the college team at Bethel, Queen teamed up with several different partners. He is the only team angler to qualify for five B.A.S.S. and five FLW college championships. In 2019 Queen and partner Dax Ewart amassed enough points to earn the Team of the Year in the Bassmaster College Series.
“The cool thing about fishing at Bethel is that I got to learn and experience fishing tactics from all across the United States,” Queen said. “College fishing is tough. Those guys can compete. When two anglers know how to fish together, they really get things clicking and moving.”
Queen now travels to the Bassmaster Opens with two former Bethel bass team members — John Garrett and Cody Huff. They pool information in practice and during the tournaments. Their collaboration has paid significant dividends. Huff is currently 21st in the overall Angler of the Year standings while Garrett is 20th.
“There’s nobody I’d rather travel with than those two boys,” Queen said.
His only sponsor at this point is Queen Tackle, a business he started with his father that specializes in tungsten jigs, sinkers and a unique product called the Switch Blade. They introduced the Switch Blade at 2019 ICAST. It is essentially a blade for a vibrating jig that you may attach to the eye of any lure you wish.
Queen claims he has done especially well by affixing the Switch Blade to Queen Tackle’s Tungsten Swim Jig.
“That bait is so different I can go right behind other guys and get more bites and bigger bites,” Queen said. “Everybody has graphs and they can watch videos and learn how to fish any bait or technique. You’ve got to fish something different now to catch them.”