You can say that Ray Hanselman loves the thrill of the hunt. Be it on the water, in the blind or on the stalk, his dialed-in diligence and dogged determination fuel a perpetual quest for the next great opportunity — traits that will, no doubt, serve him well in his second Bassmaster Elite Series season.
Born in San Antonio, Texas, Hanselman’s family moved to Del Rio when he was 4, and he’s lived there ever since. With Lake Amistad a short drive from home, the fishing bug bit early.
“Dad would pick me up at school with the boat most spring days and we’d go fishing,” Hanselman recalled. “There were two local bass clubs back then, and we fished in both. I’ve been at it for a long time.”
Hanselman earned a mechanical engineering degree from Texas State Tech, but the call of the outdoors was too strong for a young man to ignore. So, in 1993, he obtained his captain’s license, and adding his hunting guide credentials three years later.
He’s since built a year-round guiding business with fishing trips February-October and hunting mid October-January. Whitetail and mule deer comprise most of the latter, but he also guides clients for his personal favorite — free-range aoudad (aka barbary sheep).
“It’s spot-and-stalk; they don’t come to feeders,” Hanselman explained. “In that big country, glassing them and trying to put a stalk on them, it’s real hunting. I’ve guided so many years sitting in a blind and looking at a feeder, to be able to get out and hunt something is enjoyable.
“They call aoudad hunting the ‘poor man’s desert sheep.’ A desert sheep hunt costs $50,000-plus, while an aoudad hunt is $3,000-$6,000 and it’s the same kind of hunting,” Hanselman said.
Hanselman stated that he enjoys putting people on trophy bass, like his 12-pound Amistad P.B., or leading them to their next wall mount shot. But guiding also bears practical application. With strong parallels to tournament fishing, his work keeps he mind tuned in to the right frequency.
“It’s similar in a lot of ways because you have to stay on fish to keep your customers happy; just like in a tournament you have to stay on fish to perform,” Hanselman said. “When I’m guiding, I’m always thinking of something bigger and better. You can’t fish the same holes every day, you have to rotate and you’re constantly adjusting with the weather. You have to keep on your toes.
“The same goes with hunting. You have to figure out their patterns, what spooks them and what doesn’t and what’s the best strategy to get to them. You have to know what they’re eating. To put yourself in position to be successful, you have to know a lot about the animal you’re chasing.”
Hanselman has fished the Bassmaster Central Opens since 2002 and took second on Amistad in 2010. In his 2018 rookie Elite season, he finished in the money three times, including a ninth-place finish at the Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest benefiting Texas Parks & Wildlife Department on Lake Travis.
Going forward, Hanselman’s confident that two and a half decades of fishing a diverse Texas reservoir equips him to continue improving.
“Amistad is a very versatile lake; we have the clear, deep offshore canyon stuff; the aquatic vegetation; creeks with off-color water; hard wood cover; and the rivers (Rio Grande and Devil’s) with current,” he said. “The only think Amistad is lacking is boat docks, and that’s a big deal on most other places you go. But, to me, boat docks are kind of like brush piles or deer feeders — they alter the natural travel paths of a bass or deer. The learning curve for me has been learning how bass use boat docks.”
Notably, Hanselman owns the the most amazing streak in regional bass tournament history. After sweeping the 2015 Costa FLW Series Southwestern Division’s three events (Amistad, Sam Rayburn and Lake Texoma), he went on to win the Series Championship on the Ohio River. Winning three in a row on familiar waters is feat enough, but topping the season’s best in a vastly different fishery proved Hanselman’s adaptability.
Sharing his love for competition, Hanselman has coached youth t-ball and baseball for six years. He currently coaches his 11-year-old son Mason’s travel team, with younger brother Miles, 7, on his way too.
Coach Hanselman knows the importance of instilling discipline and diligence, but he’s also big on perspective.
“I teach my boys that if you make an error in a game, you get 5 seconds to get mad, get over it and get ready for the next play,” he said. “I let them do whatever they have to do, but in 5 seconds, they’d better have a short memory and get back because (the play) is probably coming right back to them.”
Decades of matching wits with wily opponents of fin and fur have shaped this mindset. You spend hours stalking a big aoudad and then bust it with a careless move; you shake it off and get after another one. Dump a big kicker at boat side — same thing.
That’s the kind of level-headed approach Ray Hanselman brings to the Elite Series. Sure, he wants those blue trophies, but more than anything, he wants his wife Misty and their boys to know he’s gonna bring it every time.
“The motivation is that I don’t want to fail,” he said. “I’m doing this to support my family, so I want to make my time away from them worth it.
“I don’t look at the guys I’m fishing against as my competition; I’m out there against the fish. I’m happy when someone else wins. I know I have to do better than them, but I don’t put that much weight on my shoulders. It’s more about me trying to figure out the fish."
If it works, great, if not — he’s got 5 seconds.