The way Randy Pierson figured, he already was entering 2019 looking for a new job. But not in his wildest dreams did he think that gig would be as a professional angler on the Bassmaster Elite Series.
Consider his story.
Pierson, 47, worked for 10 years as a sales representative for a gun accessory supply distributor in his home state of California. Business wasn’t as brisk as it once was, and Pierson wasn’t wild about the direction management was steering the company, either. Then in October, he was told his salary was being lowered by $18,000 annually.
Pierson left the West Coast under that pall a few weeks later, headed for Alabama’s Pickwick Lake where he would compete in the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship. He qualified for the tournament as California’s top angler in the B.A.S.S. Nation Western Regional held on Clear Lake in May 2018, but the difficulties at work were a source of worry.
Fishing conditions during an earlier practice trip to Pickwick proved less than ideal, too, as rain, high swirling water and strong current seemed representative of the conditions Pierson was facing off the water.
When Pierson returned to Alabama for the championship, the rough fishing conditions were the same, but having previously experienced them worked in his favor. He caught a limit on all three days of the tournament and won the championship with a 55-pound, 11-ounce total.
And then came the spoils.
First place at Pickwick netted Pierson a Nitro Z20 bass boat with a custom trailer and Mercury outboard, a Minn Kota trolling motor and Lowrance electronics. It earned him an invitation to compete in the 2019 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods on the Tennessee River in Knoxville. It also secured him a spot in the 2019 Bassmaster Elite Series, as well as $16,000 to pay for entry fees.
In other words, a murky future grew crystal clear with one win in a Bassmaster championship event.
“I’m a professional fisherman,” Pierson said excitedly and assuredly when asked about the fortuitous turn in his career trajectory.
Now, he’s hoping a consistent performance on the 2019 Elite Series makes his stay a lengthy one.
“This was definitely not expected,” Pierson said. “It’s a brand new start … People say ‘In your wildest dreams.’ Well, these are my wildest dreams.’”
Though his Bassmaster bio is short, Pierson is no stranger to tournament fishing. He began competing in club events in his native northern California when he was 14, and in 2002, he won the Western Outdoor News (WON) Western Classic against the likes of John Murray, Brett Hite, Luke Clausen, Byron Velvick and more.
That victory opened doors for Pierson to build a pro angling career at higher levels, but his two children (now adults) were preschoolers then and it wasn’t the right time for him to be on the road for weeks on end. So Pierson stayed close to home, electing instead to compete in a couple dozen regional events per year. He’s done that for nearly two decades, including a recent stay on the Wild West Bass Trail where he was among the steadiest sticks on that circuit.
Joining the Bassmaster Elite Series, however, will be a far different experience. He has several big-name sponsors on board, and the media and the public will demand his time too. But at 47, he said he’s better equipped to handle the responsibilities, and he’s working proactively to make the year less stressful.
For starters, lifelong friend Steve Taylor told Pierson he can use his home in Powder Springs, Ga., as a home base for the 2019 Elite Series. Taylor, who loaned Pierson the boat from which he won the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship in November, will accompany his friend on tournament trips this year to provide a familiar face and a sounding board.
“That’s a huge asset,” Pierson said. “Six of the 10 tournaments, including the Classic, are within a six-hour drive of his house. That’s going to save me a tremendous amount of time.”
And as Pierson found out in late 2018, timing is everything. After all, if he doesn’t qualify for the Elite Series with a win on Pickwick Lake, who knows where he’d be working right now?
“It’s much sweeter now being able to move on to bigger things (than it would have been after winning the WON event in 2002),” he said. “I didn’t know how important it was then or just how difficult it was to just get here.
“The time, experience, knowledge – it all goes by so quickly. If you don’t take advantage of it now, you’re five years down the road and you ask ‘Where’d it all go?’”
Pierson was let go from his sales job the day after Christmas, so for the first time, he’s going to devote all his energy to competitive fishing. He hopes it’s something he can do for a decade or longer, but he knows he’ll have to produce in 2019 to make that happen.
Pierson said he’s leery of the Elite opener on the St. John’s River in Florida since it’s vastly different from the deep-water lakes he frequents in northern California. He’s excited about stops at Lake Lanier in Georgia, as well as Cayuga Lake and the St. Lawrence River in upstate New York.
Pierson hopes a solid overall showing on the Elite Series attracts additional sponsors and that both industry and bass fishing fans become more aware of his game. Still, he said a certain level of anonymity could be helpful since no one on tour really knows what to expect from him.
“No one has a clue who I am,” Pierson said. “I show up with no stats, nothing. I like being a wild card, but I’m not putting any pressure on myself. I want to take care of what I can do each day on the water, and that’s catch a limit. From there, we’ll take it one tournament at a time and one day at a time.”