Florida’s John Cox was faced with a quandary. Should he fish the Bassmaster Elite Series in 2020 or FLW? Why not both?
Cox double qualified for the 2020 Elite Series by finishing second in the Bassmaster Central Opens AOY standings and fourth in the Eastern Opens. He won the Eastern Open tournament at Lake Chickamauga, which earned him a birth to the 2020 Bassmaster Classic. In 2017 he won a Southern Open at Chickamauga and qualified for the 2018 Classic.
Cox also fished the 2019 FLW Tour, finishing second in its AOY standings. It is with FLW that Cox has made the biggest splash. He has amassed $1,411,924 in winnings there and claimed a Cup Championship in the process. However, he has also pocketed a quarter-million dollars by fishing 43 Bassmaster Opens since 2004.
It is an amazing list of accomplishments. There is surely much more to come from the 35-year-old angler. Cox’s road to stardom had humble beginnings. Growing up in Florida, his father, Reddy, would take him to ponds where they would fish for bluegills from the bank.
While in elementary school Cox befriended Spencer Doolittle, whose father often took them saltwater fishing in a 16-foot johnboat. When Doolittle got straight As in fourth grade, his father rewarded him with a guided shiner fishing trip for bass on the St. Johns River. Cox was invited to come along.
“That was the first time I actually fished in a bass boat,” Cox said. “We caught a ton of bass that day.”
The outing peaked Cox’s interest in bass fishing and prompted a desire to fish bass tournaments. His introduction to tournaments happened at age 12. While at a tackle store with his mother, Marie, Cox saw a flier for a club that fished johnboat tournaments. He joined the club after his parents bought a 12-foot aluminum V-hull for $75. He fixed a 30-pound hand control electric motor to the bow and teamed up with his buddy, Jeremy Schwartz, to fish the tournaments.
“We knew nothing, but we were so ate up with it,” Cox said. “We fished together every day after school. My parents or Jeremy’s parents would drive us to the lake. We won $50 at our first tournament.”
The young anglers competed in johnboat tournaments until Cox was old enough to get his driver’s license. Over the next few years they also fished local open tournaments from the johnboat. They eventually got a 15-foot fiberglass boat with a 70 hp outboard for tournament fishing.
At Father Lopez High School in Daytona Beach, Cox and the other seniors were required to do 100 hours of community service before they could graduate. He earned 10 hours of community service for each day he took one of his fellow students fishing. His most frequent companion was Keith Carson.
“He did really well,” Cox said. “For the last 16 years we’ve fished tournaments together, and we’ve won a lot of money.”
Cox and Carson’s bass fishing horizons expanded when they met Joe Kremer, who was a hot stick on the BFL and EverStart tours. While Kremer fished these events as a boater, the boys would compete on the co-angler side.
“Joe taught us a lot,” Cox said. “He really molded us into becoming good fishermen. The main thing he taught me is that you have to do something you alone have figured out. That helps me even to this day.
“Joe really helped me to do my own thing and not worry about whatever everybody else does. I always fish shallow all year round. Joe died a couple of years ago from cancer. He had just turned 50. It was hard to see him wither away.”
The next step up the tournament ladder happened when Cox and Carson won $40,000 at a Fishers of Men tournament. They invested their winnings into entry fees for the FLW Tour. Cox fished as a boater while Carson fished as a co-angler.
One thing that sets Cox apart from most other pro anglers is that he fishes from an aluminum boat made by Crestliner. It almost seems like fate that he now fishes from an aluminum boat as he did as a youngster.
Cox’s first Crestliner was not intended for bass fishing. He and Carson bought the 17-foot johnboat at a used car dealership for alligator hunting. It was powered by a 70 hp outboard.
The following year an FLW Tour event was scheduled for the Red River. Cox used the aluminum boat to fish that tournament, figuring its shallow draft would allow him to reach water that was too skinny for regular bass boats. That proved true. He won the tournament on the pro side and Carson won the event as a co-angler.
“Keith and I were out of money before that Red River tournament,” Cox said. “We figured it was our last shot. We borrowed Keith dad’s credit card to get by. We rode out of Shreveport with $120,000 in winnings. It paid off all of the dept that we had acquired, and we were able to finish out the season.”
At the end of that season Cox needed a new bass boat, but he couldn’t get a deal from any bass boat companies. He was doing drywall and running guide trips and had no credit. On a lark, he called Lori Kneeland at Crestliner, and they came through with 19-foot modified aluminum V-hull rated for a 135 hp outboard.
Although Cox had secured a boat, he did not have the funds to continue fishing the FLW Tour. Two days before the first event of the 2012 season, FLW called Cox and told him they had an opening, provided he could come up with the entry fee.
“I called Billy Taylor from River of Life Osteopathic in Ocoee, Fla. He met me at a boat ramp on the Harris Chain and handed me a brown bag full of money. He told me to go get’em and to pay him back one day. I ended up finishing dead last at the tournament. Cried the whole way home.
“Billy called up FLW and paid for my next tournament. I went there to Lake Hartwell and finished second. I paid him back as soon as I got home.”