Chad Morgenthaler's tale is actually told through three different careers. The second career led directly to the third, while the first career provided the financial fuel.
"I got started in the competitive portion of fishing when I went to work for the City of Carbondale, Ill., Fire Department at the age of 23," tells Morgenthaler, now entering his 19th year as a tournament pro. "That gave me sufficient time off to get on the water and compete in some regional events. I fished regionally and did well, and gained the knowledge and experience I needed to move forward. And being a firefighter put me into sticky and dangerous situations, and that helped keep me calm and focused in tournaments. I think that matured me more quickly."
At age 35, with 10 years at the fire department and being fully vested as a captain with a shot at assistant chief, his wife Debbie convinced him to become a full-time fishing pro. The couple agreed to a three-year timeline, after which they'd evaluate the decision.
So his second career as a firefighter had helped launch his third career as a tour angler. But he still needed a financial foundation, and that's where his first career came in.
"I was an automobile transmission tech before I joined the fire department," Morgenthaler said. "Jasper Engines and Transmissions had just left NASCAR shortly after I became a full-time angling professional, and I didn't have a title sponsor at the time. A mutual business relationship put Jasper and I together, and we very quickly hit it off. That was in 2006 and they've been my title sponsor ever since."
The sponsorship has run for 13 consecutive years, which makes it one the longest-running non-endemic/non-league title sponsorships in all of fishing — eclipsed perhaps only by Joe Thomas and Stihl.
When it comes to bass fishing, Illinois definitely isn't Minnesota. There's water, but in general it's small and crowded. When there's a regional event, forget it. But that's how Morgenthaler rose through the ranks: fishing some of the toughest, tightest, most-crowded tournaments in all of the U.S.
That helped develop his skills, because he's widely regarded as an angler who fishes well within a crowd. And his strength is fishing used water that looks exactly the same for acres and acres.
"My favorite is large grass systems, because they challenge me," he said. "I like no contours. No current. No laydowns. Something where it's all the same, and you just have to figure out the really small details.
"Lots of guys, when they pull into Okeechobee or Toho and see miles and miles of same-looking stuff, they get intimidated. But I have a grind-it-out, never-give-up personality that has allowed me to push and push and do everything I can to finally dial into a pattern. Over the years it's worked out."
And about the crowds, he said: "When it comes to crowded fishing, my training as a firefighter has taught me to control my emotions and stay focused," Morgenthaler explained. "But it's also because I started out by competing in Illinois. Every lake in Illinois is a tough bite for the most part. My home lake, Crab Orchard, is an 8,000-acre impoundment that really only fishes 4,000 acres and has 200-boat tournaments. I was taught about fishing crowds and heavy pressure very quickly."
That mentality certainly bears out in his Florida finishes. Of his 18 B.A.S.S. top 10s, six were in Florida, and all but one of those six were a top five. The majority of his other Top 10s were on tough-bite or grass lakes as well — Guntersville, Sabine River, Red River and the Ouachita River.
He does love deep fishing too. In fact, he moved to Reeds Springs, Mo., in order to fish Table Rock during his off time. But it's the sprawling acres of sameness that are his true tournament love.