As a child, Jay Brainard was a record-breaking gymnast known for high-flying flips and somersaults.
At age 17, before his childhood was even truly over, he became a freestyle bullfighter known for doing backflips over angry, hard-charging 2,000-pound animals.
Now, at age 28, he’s embarking upon what many would consider to be a much tamer career as a professional fisherman.
But he insists his thrill-seeking days are far from over.
“To me, there’s nothing better than skipping a jig 30 feet up behind a dock and leaning back on a 6-pounder,” said Brainard, one of 13 newcomers on this year’s Bassmaster Elite Series.
“I don’t mean that ‘plop, plop, plop’ kind of skip. I mean when it skitters across the top of the water like it’s on glass and it drops 6 inches and you swing back on a big fish.
“That rush … Why do people do drugs when you can do that?”
Brainard put those dock-skipping skills on display last year in the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open on Mississippi’s Ross Barnett Reservoir. In his first-ever Bassmaster event, the Oklahoma native skipped a Strike King spinnerbait under marina docks to place second, less than 2 pounds back of winner Gene Bishop.
From there, Brainard was off and running toward his dream of qualifying for the Elite Series. He finished 40th five months later in the second Central Open on Fort Gibson in his home state of Oklahoma and clinched the season points championship with a 10th-place finish on Missouri’s Table Rock Lake in October.
He said those excellent finishes on lakes where he had little experience will give him confidence going into an Elite Series season that will include 11 tournaments in 10 states.
“I had never even seen Ross Barnett before I fished the Open there,” Brainard said. “I had only been to Fort Gibson one time, and that was 10 years ago with my grandpa for catfish.
“When I start feeling nervous about fishing the Elite Series, that makes me think, ‘Dude, calm down. You can do this.’”
Brainard understands that many people might consider competitive fishing easy compared to what he’s done in the past, especially the freestyle bullfighting.
For those unfamiliar with the sport, bullfighting basically involves going eyeball to eyeball with an angry bull and trying to survive — in style. He said it bears more similarities to fishing than most people might think.
“I’ll basically be doing the same thing, but I have to find the fish before I can fight them,” Brainard said. “I always knew where that bull was. So believe it or not, this is actually a lot harder for me than rodeoing.”
Though he established himself as an excellent dock fisherman in that first event at Ross Barnett — and he admits that’s one of his favorite ways to fish — he insists he has the kind of multifaceted game it will take to succeed on the Elite Series.
He said he’s comfortable with any type of fishing and doesn’t mind changing on the fly.
“At Table Rock, I didn’t know I was going to be catching them in a foot of water cranking a spinnerbait as fast as I could,” Brainard said. “I thought I was going to be out in 20 feet of water with a drop shot. I geared up for that, and when I got there, my instincts told me to do something else.
“I have no problem doing whatever it takes.”
Now he’s just anxious to make a name for himself outside the bullfighting arena.
“The first time I jumped a bull, I balled up my fist and screamed,” he said. “When I stopped screaming and the crowd stopped screaming, I could still hear my mother screaming.
“That’s what happened on Ross Barnett — and I want to hear more of that down the road.”