Sometimes, the least dramatic tales can be some of the most inspiring. While some anglers “find” their way into professional fishing via life experiences, unexpected opportunities, or perhaps, doors suddenly closing or opening, veteran Elite competitor John Crews exemplifies the well-plotted course that leads to success.
Good example is his Missile Baits company. While attending Randolph Macon College in Ashland, Va., Crews knew he wanted a career in the fishing industry — one that would likely coexist in complimentary form with competitive fishing.
“I always felt like the tournaments would lead me into another opportunity,” he said. “Early on, I thought it was going to be like a TV show or other business opportunity like that. But I realized that was not where I really wanted to go with it.
“When the opportunity to launch Missile Baits came in January 2012, I knew that’s where I wanted to put my efforts. That opportunity came available through the tournaments and I feel like they work really well together.
What’s in a name? During college, a tournament friend used to call him “Crews Missile” — a reference to the Gulf War of the early 1990’s. The name stuck and, now, Crews’ products have found their way into tackle bags throughout the tournament scene.
His personal favorite: The Missile Baits D Bomb, a ribbed creature bait suitable for swim jigs, football jigs and traditional Texas rigs. His best day flipping the D Bomb was a 32-pound limit of Falcon Lake toads.
Crews played baseball, basketball and golf at Fuqua High School in Farmville, Va., but when graduation transitioned into college, he knew that his team sports days were behind him.
“I didn’t have the passion to play sports year round, which is what it required,” Crews said. “So, my competitive itch got scratched by getting serious about tournament fishing.”
During his sophomore year in college, Crews’ tournament performances started showing consistent improvement — a point he simply credits to experience. These advancements soon sparked an interest in fishing for a living.
“About halfway through college, I had done my research and decided I wanted to become a professional angler after college,” he said. “It took me a couple of years to qualify through the Bassmaster Invitationals for what was then the Bassmaster Tour, which turned into the Bassmaster Elite Series.
“I fished two years on the Bassmaster Invitationals and I wasn’t even close to qualifying, but my third year, I qualified for the Tour. I continued to fish the Invitationals and the Opens, and the funny thing was the next two years, I finished in the top 10 and would have qualified both of those years. So, once I did it; I did it three times in a row.”
Since then, he’s notched 18 top 10 Elite finishes, including a 2010 win on the California Delta, a couple of third-place finishes and, most recently, a sixth-place performance at the 2018 Sabine River event.
Of all the venues he’s fished, Crews says his favorite is a tie between lakes Champlain and Guntersville. Surprisingly, if you ask Crews which fishery has given him the hardest time, he’ll point to one of the nation’s top tidal bodies.
“Growing up near the Potomac River, I had a really good track record on that fishery, but the last three or four pro level tournaments, I’ve completely stunk,” he said. “It’s been a thorn in my side, but I hope we go back every year because I want to reverse that track record.”
Between tournaments, Crews hits the gym on a regular schedule, but his true joy is youth sports.
“I’ve coached just about every girls and boys sport you can name — soccer, football, basketball, baseball,” Crews chuckles. “That goes back to when my stepson, Noah, was 6 or 8, and he’s 19 now.
“The first year Noah played football, I went to nearly every practice, and I watched. His head coach got him again the following year, and he had told me at the end of the first year, ‘You come to all of these practices, why don’t you help me coach?’”
Crews answered considerately by noting that he knew little about the game. Fortunately, that was no deterrent.
“He said, ‘You don’t have to know anything; that’s what I’m for,’” Crews recalls. “I just need you to help me keep them going from one place to the other.’ I said ‘Sure, I’ll do it.’ I was coaching baseball at the same time, so it all just kind of came together.”
He’s been at it for about a dozen years now, and Crews says coaching provides a pleasant break from the rigors of running a business and fishing professionally.
“You get to spend more time, not only with your kids, but you get to know their friends,” he said. “You get to see your kids interacting with their peers in an unfiltered environment. I think it’s good to get to know who your kid is hanging out with and their personalities.
“At times, it can be like herding cats and chaos, but you’re trying to make the experience as much fun and competitive as possible. That mix is what I do for a living; so I love it.”
To that point, Crews offers this motivational gem: “If you work in a field that you’re passionate about, you have a tendency to work a lot harder, and it doesn’t feel like work because it’s much more gratifying. A lot of people don’t have a passion, so to speak, that’s quantifiable for a career; but to those people, I’d say you might be surprised that people are what you’re passionate about. The relationships you establish at whatever you’re doing can accomplish the same thing.”
Need an example? Just look to John Crews for an example of how a well-planned and diligently pursued career can take off like a rocket — or, a missile.