New Elite: Hanselman testing Elite waters

hanselman_jo.jpg

James Overstreet

Since 2010 Ray Hanselman of Del Rio, Tex., has competed in four Bassmaster Central Open tours. Although he has finished in the money more than half the time and claimed nearly $50,000 in Bassmaster winnings, Hanselman failed to accomplish what he set out to do.

“My goal was the Classic,” Hanselman said.

Hanselman competed in the Central Opens with the dream of winning one of the tournaments, which would have punched his ticket to the Classic. The irony is that he received an invitation to join the Bassmaster Elite Series after finishing fifth in the 2017 Central Open’s AOY standings.

“I had never given a thought about the Elites,” Hanselman said.

That may sound loopy to anglers who yearn to be an Elite Series pro. However, Hanselman didn’t believe he could take enough time away from work to fish the Elite Series. He also didn’t care to spend several months of the year away from his wife, Misty, and his two young boys, Mason and Miles.

“It would be hard being gone and hard to get away to do any pre-fishing” Hanselman said.

Hanselman has been a fishing and hunting outfitter for 26 years and also sells ranches for Meek Ranch Sales. He is perfectly content with his life as it is. What he failed to anticipate was the level of urging he received to fish the Elite Series.

“After I qualified for the Elites everybody jumped on board,” Hanselman said. “I didn’t realize I had that much support from family, friends and sponsors. With Misty behind me, it was an easy decision to fish the Elites.”

At the ripe age of 2, Hanselman began tagging along on bass outings with his father, Don, who fished local team tournament trails and club events. Many of Hanselman’s early jaunts were to their home water, Lake Amistad.

By age 6 Hanselman was walking a Zara Spook with baitcasting tackle.

“I caught my first 9-pounder on a Spook when I was 8,” Hanselman said. “It was a Chinese fire drill in the boat.”

By age 10 Hanselman knew how to drive a bass boat and run the trolling motor. He had already been fishing bass club tournaments since he was 6, mainly on lakes Amistad, Falcon and Choke Canyon.

“If you didn’t have 30 pounds back then, you might as well throw them back,” Hanselman said.

During Hanselman’s formative angling years, before hydrilla invaded Amistad, he often fished during the winter months with a Carolina rig, a jigging spoon and a Westy worm, which has two exposed hooks. In warmer seasons he mainly cast topwater lures, jerkbaits and flipped jigs and Texas rigged soft plastics on braided line.

“My dad was one of the first guys to put braid on a bass reel,” Hanselman said. “We used 50- or 60-pound old black Dacron braided line. It was as big as rope.”

Once hydrilla became established at Amistad, Hanselman added big swimbaits, big crankbaits and grass punching to his bass arsenal.

In high school Hanselman began fishing team tournaments with Jeffry Piel and some of his other teenage friends. If his father’s 19-foot Nitro bass boat wasn’t available, he would compete from a 16-foot aluminum boat powered by a 35 hp jet drive.

After graduating from Del Rio High School in 1990 Hanselman enrolled in Texas State Technical collage. He graduated two years later with a degree in mechanical engineering. The next year he got his Captain’s License and began guiding for bass on Lake Amistad.

“A few years down the road I realized that most fishermen hunt in the winter,” Hanselman said. “I started working with different outfitters as a hunting guide.”

Hanselman eventually added his own hunting service to his fishing business. His hunting clients go for whitetail and mule deer, exotics and spring turkey. Throughout this period, Hanselman continued to fish local bass tournaments.

In the early 2000s Hanselman spread his wings and began fishing tournaments farther from home, including Bassmaster and FLW events. He honed his skills and gained knowledge about lakes that were new to him. He credits guiding on Amistad 200 days a year for keeping his instincts sharp.

“What I learn at Amistad helps me wherever I go,” Hanselman said. “It’s kind of like being a mechanic. You start out with a little tool box and eventually get to where you have a big Snap-on tool box that has everything you need.”

Hanselman has fished 37 FLW tournaments, pocketing nearly $240,000. He competed in the 2016 Forest Wood Cup. Although he qualified to fish the FLW Tour in 2016 he turned down the opportunity.

As for a career as a Bassmaster Elite Series pro, Hanselman’s rookie year allows him to test the water.

“I can’t say now that I want fish the Elites for the rest of my life,” Hanselman said. “I would have to be really successful at it to make such a life-changing decision.”

Hanselman’s sponsors include Rack Ind., Smith Ind., Skeeter, Yamaha, Energy Automation, Strike King, Caltech, Desert Downhole Tools, Viva Energy Services, Del Rio Chamber of Commerce, Troops First Foundation, Boerne Marine, Costa RX, Minn Kota, Humminbird, Owner Hooks, Power Tackle rods and Gill.