Jesse Tacoronte’s path to professional bass fishing began like most — with his father taking him fishing.
“My dad and his friends would fish every Friday and Sunday evenings,” the second-year Bassmaster Elite Series pro said. “That was their escape.”
His father, who was born in Cuba and gained his U.S. citizenship in 1967, ensured his son would spend a lifetime fishing during a trip South California’s Venice Pier when the younger Tacoronte was just 4 years old.
“My dad cast out and told me, ‘Just hold this until it bends,’” Tacoronte recalled.
Soon the little rod bent and the reel screamed as a mackerel took the bait and made a run.
“I was hooked,” Tacoronte said. “Fishing has been a part of my everyday life since then.”
He continued fishing in saltwater until the family moved to Las Vegas in 1972, which led to the young angler’s introduction to stripers at Lake Mead.
“We were catching 20- and 30-pound stripers from the banks,” he said. “I never missed a Saturday fishing with my dad until I found girls.”
But he discovered bass when he was about 11 years old, when he landed a 6-pound largemouth on a black Creme Strait Tail worm.
“I can still remember that’s what I caught it on,” he chuckled.
He joined the Las Vegas Bass Club at 12 and was its president by 18.
“I had some members take me under their wings,” Tacoronte said.
He continued saltwater fishing as often as he could make it to the West Coast, but he added competitive bass fishing through the Redman Series.
“Charlie Evans handed me my first Redman trophy when I was 18 years old,” Tacoronte said. “That was my first pro tournament win.”
Even as he found success in local tournaments, he never thought about it as a full-time gig. But he was never far from the industry. In fact, he went to Japan at 19 and worked on a TV show with the likes of Davy Hite and Shaw Grigsby.
His primary goal remained supporting his family. The budding angler was married at 20 years old, and secured a job driving a UPS truck.
“I always considered (tournament fishing) extra income,” he said.
He watched West Coast pros, like Byron Velvick, “running round broke” and determined never to be in that position.
“Fishing has always been second to making a living,” he said. “Family comes first. Always.”
He eventually moved away from bass fishing, earning his 50-ton master captains license and fishing for marlin for years. By this time, he had moved to Florida.
“A lot of our family time was spent on that boat,” Tacoronte said.
In 2014, he founded Enigma Fishing with his son, and that served as an entree back into the bass-fishing community. After being absent from the bass fishing world for almost 15 years, he jumped into the Bassmaster Opens.
“I fished eight Opens for two years before I decided to go to the Elite Series,” he said. “I told my wife in 2016, ‘I’m going to try to make the Elite Series. But if I make it I don’t know if I’ll go.”
His wife traveled with him and fully supported his fishing ambitions, but he said his ultimate decision was strictly financial.
“If I didn’t have it all paid for with sponsors, I wouldn’t go,” Tacoronte said.
The stars lined up, and he accepted an invite to the 2017 Elite Series. Things did not go as planned right off the bat.
“On the first morning at Cherokee (Lake), I stepped out of my truck and hit black ice, and I fell hard on my shoulder and neck,” Tacoronte said. “From that point on, my neck and shoulder got worse.”
He simply couldn’t perform at a high level.
“I was always in the Top 50 the first day, and then you’d see a fall-off,” he explained. “I just couldn’t do some of the things I needed to.”
Jigging a spoon, for instance, was impossible, so he would have to stick with tactics that didn’t aggravate his pain. Those less-painful patterns weren’t necessarily the most productive.
He claimed a medical exemption for the 2018 season, having surgeries to repair the injuries. He’s now ready to go for 2019.
“With four plates and 12 screws, it’s hard to injure it now,” he said of his neck. “My approach (in 2019) is going to be a lot more open-minded because I don’t have to fish around pain anymore.”
He’s looking forward to getting out on the water and proving himself. But he admitted he’ll take it a lot easier when running.
“As we get older we get smarter,” Tacoronte said with a laugh. “While my Blazer is probably the fastest boat out there, it probably won’t pass many boats.
“I don’t need to do 80 mph.”
He has pretty straightforward plans for 2019.
“My goal is to make the (Bassmaster) Classic,” he said. “Period. End of story.”