At 12 years old, Kelley Jaye thought his life was over, when it actuality was just beginning. His parents split up and his mother moved him from the city to the country, which might as well have been a foreign country.
“We went out to the sticks,” he recalled. “I was a city boy, and we were out in the country. I had to leave all of my friends and I cried like a baby.” After two years in his new home, though — located in the aptly named hamlet of Reeltown — he’d been transformed, and it was fishing that eased him into a newfound comfort zone.
“We had a pond just 250 yards from our back door, and it was stocked with bass,” he recalled. His father’s family, once-a-week fishermen who preferred crappie and cane poles to anything else, had introduced him to the sport, and now he had a forum in which to exploit his burgeoning interest. But although he was hooked and lived in the heart of the bass belt, tournament fishing was never really at the forefront of his interests.
“It never crossed my mind, even though I’m very competitive,” he said. “I coached girls’ softball and we went 85 and 8 over two years.” Indeed, raising his daughters Kelsey and Kaitlyn became a major focus, as did building his business, Alabama Motor & Pump Service. It’s a family-run enterprise, with his wife Cheryl functioning as operations manager, and with six full- and part-time employees he carries the responsibility of their families’ well-being on his back as well.
Still, the fishing urge never went away. He had a sneaking suspicion that given the right opportunity he could be competitive at the top level of the sport. A trip to the 2010 Bassmaster Elite Series postseason event on Lake Jordan as a spectator inspired him to attempt to make that leap.
“I fished the Opens, and in the first year I finished 48th,” he said. “The second year I was eighth, with four Elites in front of me in the standings.” He had fished FLW in 2012, and the deposit for their 2013 season was due before the Elite deposit, so he elected to fish both during his rookie season on the Elites. In 2014 and thereafter, he elected to fish just one tour, the Elite Series. Nevertheless, after six years “full-time” with B.A.S.S., he has yet to make it truly “full-time.”
“If anything, I’m not all-in on the fishing like I could be,” he said of his decision to continue to run his business, with Cheryl taking on added responsibilities while he’s gone. “My family, my employees and my employees’ families have to come first and foremost. Fishing is an added bonus.”
Nevertheless, after some near misses, he’s hungry to add to his resume and to the trophy case in 2019. His best Elite Series finish so far is a third-place result at Kentucky Lake in 2018. In 2017, he finished 43rd in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year race, narrowly missing a berth in the 2018 Classic at Lake Hartwell.
“I don’t think I’ve lived up to my potential,” he said. “I’ve had some flashes, some good tournaments, but that’s it. I want to qualify for the Classic and win a tournament or two before it’s all over. In fact, I want to win every one of them, don’t just try to get a check.” He’s become known for his multi-season jerkbaiting prowess, and he’s proud of that skill, but cautions anyone who thinks that he’s one-dimensional to think otherwise. “I jerk a lot, and people think that’s all I do, but I love throwing a topwater, swimming a jig and fishing grass. People don’t realize that I flip a lot.”
Nevertheless, he’s looking especially forward to any pre-spawn derbies where the jerkbait will be a primary weapon. That includes the season-opening trip to Florida’s St. Johns Feb. 7-10, much earlier than other recent B.A.S.S. events there. That means that instead of the bedding bass merry-go-round in known areas experienced previously, this time around the field will have to find new populations of fish. “It’ll be challenging, but it sets up good for me. Then after that we go to Lake Lanier, which has spotted bass and will fish a lot like Lake Martin.”
With their daughters now in college, the Jayes had expected that as empty-nesters Kelley would have more time on the road and fewer obligations at home. That changed a few years ago when they elected to take custody of their now 7-year-old nephew.
“I thought I would be winding down about now,” Jaye said. “But I didn’t have any choice in my mind. I took responsibility. He went from a very bad situation to living high on the hog – he’s got it made.”
Most importantly, as he looks to make a continuing and enhanced mark on the Elite Series landscape, he also has a Mini-Me to mold and appreciate.
“He fishes some,” Jaye said of his nephew. “We lived on Martin, and he fed the fish every afternoon, mainly big catfish. He’s really into hunting and doing country stuff. He’s in my pocket.”