Beneath a mild and measured exterior, Tennessee pro Brandon Card has the heart of a daredevil.
“I’ve been skydiving and cliff jumping, all those sorts of extreme things,” he said nonchalantly. “I don’t even get a thrill unless it’s a near-death experience. I’ll be driving down the lake at 75 miles per hour thinking that it’s kind of boring.”
He chalks up the “need for speed” to his relative youth, noting that “for most bass pros my age, speed matters.” The only exception he’s aware of is his close friend and traveling partner Chad Pipkens, who is happy to putt along at less than wide open throttle. “Chad is the only one 40-and-under who drives slow. He’s such an old man.”
Pipkens is 35 years old. Card is 32.
Therein lies the rub for Card. He’s somewhere caught between being a veteran and a rookie, because while he’s far younger than many newcomers, he already has seven Elite Series seasons under his belt. Similarly, while his ascent to the big leagues was swift, he touched every rung of the ladder on the way up, competing successfully at the college, federation and Bassmaster Opens levels on the way. He won the televised Ultimate Match Fishing College Edition tournament in 2007, and then competed in consecutive Federation Nation championships before moving up to the Opens. In his first season on the Southern Open circuit, he finished no worse than 13th, thus punching his ticket to the Elites for 2012.
He attributes a large part of that success to his upraising in East Tennessee, close to Norris Lake, a region known for fast boats, handmade crankbaits and as an incubator for many of the top talents in the game.
“I didn’t realize how big fishing was in East Tennessee until I went to other parts of the country,” he said. “They’re more hardcore than anyplace else I’ve been, except maybe Alabama or East Texas. They’re fishing freaks. Part of it is that there are eight lakes within an hour’s drive of Knoxville and you can fish for all three species. Expand that to two hours, and it’s crazy how many lakes there are. It’s a way of life in that region.”
Card continued his fast rise once he got to the Elite Series, winning the Rookie of the Year award in 2012 and qualifying for the first of two Bassmaster Classics so far. But he’s a rabid competitor, and he’s not thrilled that his path to further success has not been quite as easy. “Everybody has a five-year plan. My primary goal was to get my first win before I turned 30. I came close at Texoma (in 2016, when he finished second to Greg Hackney). Now I have to keep pushing it back. My goal every year is to win. I want to win in the Elite Series even more than qualify for my third Classic.”
Unfortunately, he did not qualify for the 2019 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting goods in Knoxville, and while that severely stings, it gives him the motivation to break out of his shell. Last year he tried to go back to his roots, utilizing tactics such as shallow cranking whenever possible, and it burned him with the worst season of his career.
“Seeing shallow power anglers like Hackney, Bill Lowen and Matt Herren miss the Classic, I realized I wasn’t the only one. I handcuffed myself in certain tournaments. I wasn’t comfortable doing something, so I didn’t do it. I finished fourth in 2015 on the St. Lawrence fishing for largemouth and 20th in 2017, but last year it didn’t work. I don’t want to be that guy who doesn’t do what it’ll take to win a tournament.”
While his primary focus is on his own continued career development, Card recognizes that not all youth have the opportunities to engage in fishing that he was offered growing up. Accordingly, for three straight years he’s held a namesake two-tier tournament for high school and college anglers. Last year more than 300 young competitors showed up. If that wasn’t enough, he also worked to coordinate a “Fishing for Change” tournament through his church this past October.
“We raised over $9,000 for the Knoxville Change Center,” he said “It’s a fun, safe place that works to get inner-city kids off of the street. There are all sorts of things for kids to do, and there’s also tutoring and college prep. They had no clue about tournament fishing, but I rallied the troops and we had an awesome first year event.”
Many of these efforts reflect Card’s deep faith, and he works hard to blend his dual passions. “I feel like God wants me here. It’s an awesome platform to share my faith and to talk to people about God. This is bigger than just chasing fish.”
As he tries to push his career forward, Card intends to fully continue his daredevil ways – but no effort to push a high-speed vehicle to its limits or plunge from high altitudes creates quite the danger scenario as wearing his alma mater’s Kentucky blue around his Knoxville home.
“It’s a little more acceptable back in Campbell County, where I grew up,” he said. “But I still rock the blue and while a lot. I just like those colors. I’m not really an orange fan.”