Fresh on the heels of high school and a few years of college, Ed Loughran fully believed that he’d be a full-time touring bass pro by the time he was in his mid 20s. And why not? He’d been guiding on the Potomac River since he was in his teens, had come in fifth in the Red Man All-American and had been featured in The Washington Post as the eastern director of the Budweiser Fishing Team.
Now, 20-something years later, Loughran is set to make his Elite Series debut as a 48-year-old rookie. He took a road less traveled by, and he’s convinced that will make all the difference.
His path to the Elites is an unlikely one, starting as a latchkey kid in the near suburbs of Washington, D.C., winding its way through a Wall Street trading firm and law school and including a period where he didn’t fish a tournament for 10 years. In fact, after finishing 27th at the 1995 Bassmaster Virginia Invitational, he didn’t blast off in B.A.S.S, competition again until the 2011 Northern Open on the James River, a little more than 16 years later.
The catalyst for Loughran’s ascent was a tackle store just a short walk from the Bethesda, Md., apartment where he grew up. Owner Mike O’Donnell took him under his wing and started hauling him to tournaments.
“The first time I went with him was to practice on the Chickahominy River,” Loughran recalled. “I caught more than he did, but I couldn’t fish the tournament, so I stayed on land, fished off the bulkhead and caught a bunch. After that my first check came in a Chickahominy team tournament.”
He’d acquired a 6-horsepower Evinrude outboard, and he’d find jonboats to mount it on, but later in high school his mother helped him to finance a Skeeter for $15,000. “It was a badass boat at the time,” he said. “I’d drag it to school and leave from there for the weekend. I took my friends’ parents fishing – it became a business association.”
He became tight with the local guiding cartel and elected to matriculate at nearby George Mason University so that he could continue to guide. “I didn’t get a whole lot of credits,” he said. Studies could wait because there were tournaments to fish, and he made it his goal to qualify for the All-American.
Over a five-year period from 1987 to 1991, he made seven regional events, and then finally qualified for the championship in the fall of 1991. “We fished it in June of 1992, and I was 21 years old,” he said. “At the time I was the youngest competitor, until Randy Howell came along, and then later Jacob Wheeler won it when he was like 11.”
He finished fifth in the tournament on the Arkansas River out of Muskogee, Okla., behind a 26-year-old named Clark Wendlandt, whose career took off from there. After a long and successful career in the old Top 150s and then on FLW, Wendlandt too will be an Elite Series rookie this year.
With the success at the All-American, Loughran resolved to get a captain’s license to ensure that he could continue guiding, and after a summer crashing on a friend’s couch in Nag’s Head studying, and then three weeks in New Orleans where the exam was administered, he passed.
“That was probably my undoing,” he recalled. “I dropped out of school.” For a while he worked on an offshore boat out of Miami, fishing in the Caribbean and off Mexico, then he returned north, met his wife and went back to George Mason. “I essentially got a 4.0 the last two years, but I still couldn’t pull myself out of the basement."
A high school friend hooked him up with a Wall Street Trading firm called Herzog Heine Guduld, run by brothers Irwin and Buzzy Geduld, who couldn’t stand one another – so one worked out of Jersey City and the other was stationed in Miami. Loughran decamped to Florida. It was the height of the tech boom and money was rolling in, but when the firm was sold to Merrill Lynch in 2000 for $968 million, the buyers shut down the Miami office. Rather than head to New Jersey, Loughran took a severance package, and then he and his wife spent a year trying to figure out their next steps. That turned out to be law school at the University of Richmond. This time, fishing was not an impediment, he excelled, and ended up working for a prominent Richmond firm. He also started fishing local events again.
“I was using a slow, small, old Skeeter and I got beat to a place during a tournament in West Virginia,” he said. “I would’ve won but for the boat. I called John Crews on the way back and asked him, ‘When can I buy your boat?’” He returned to the Opens in 2011 and almost immediately started experiencing some success, but was inconsistent, and typically had one event each year that doomed his chances of progressing to the next level. He finished ninth in the Eastern Opens in 2016, 16th in 2017, and then in 2018 ended up just inside the cut to move forward at 14th.
Loughran’s wait has been lengthy, but he’s convinced that if he’d had more success in his 20s “it probably would have been terrible.” He’d been on the verge of qualifying in 1994, but a 212th-place finish at Lake Lanier “ended my dreams.”
“It would probably have just prolonged the inevitable,” he said. “I was sleeping in my truck, worrying about gas money. I used to always have to get a check. It was probably the best thing that could have happened.”
Now he has the best of all worlds. He’ll be able to practice law as his schedule allows, as the firm’s name partner told him that “as long as you make us money we don’t care if we ever see you.” That means that his tournament decisions won’t be guided exclusively by pursuit of getting a check. When he’s sitting outside of a courthouse, he can spend downtime looking at Google Earth or reviewing old tournament records, and during the long drives to distant lakes he may have to participate in the occasional conference call, but there will be no desperation on either front. More than two decades after his first shot at the dream, he’s settled into a zone of comfort.
His daughter and son are 14 and 12 years old, about the same age that Loughran caught the bass bug, and he’s glad that they’ll be able to observe his Elite Series debut.
“I hope that what they can take away from this is that whatever you’re trying to do, stay on course and move forward,” he said. “You can’t always get what you want when you want it, and sometimes that’s better.”
Loughran's current list of sponsors is Missile Baits, Hawk Lake Lodge, Shimano, Bass Cat Boats, Mercury, Power Pro, Power-Pole and Mare Marine.