KISSIMMEE, Fla. — From sunup to sundown A J Slegona spent summer vacations fishing on the shore of Oneida Lake, New York. The teenager would have fished into the night had his father not made him sleep.
During some trips the dynamic bass fishery hosted Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens presented by Allstate. When it did, Slegona roamed the boat ramps during practice days looking for a pro to take him fishing. None did.
“I was in awe of it all,” said Slegona, now 23. “It was a dream of mine to be in those boats.”
Dream no more.
Slegona is fishing the 2015 Southern and Central Opens as a pro. In just his second event, the angler from Walker Valley, N.Y., turned in an impressive performance on the Kissimmee Chain.
He led off the tournament with a limit weighing 31 pounds, 2 ounces, anchored by largemouth weighing 9-1 and 8-10. After leading Day 1 he made the top 12 cut and finished seventh in the tournament.
It might not be a fluke.
Slegona is a graduate of the B.A.S.S. youth program called Junior Bassmasters during his high school enrollment. He joined the Orange County Bassmasters’ junior club affiliated with the B.A.S.S. Nation and quickly earned success. The first three years he won the junior club’s angler-of-the year title.
The obsession with bass fishing started in middle school.
“In the computer lab I spent more time researching and reading about bass fishing than school work,” he admitted. “I just couldn’t get enough of it.”
He read two books about Kevin VanDam. Twice.
High school graduation came and the reality of getting a job took precedence over the quest to become a bass pro.
Slegona landed a job with the New York City Sandhogs Local 147. Sandhog is the slang term given to urban miners who work underground on excavation projects in the city. Slegona’s group is legendary, credited with having built many tunnels in New York and the foundations for some of the city’s bridges.
The job paid well enough for Slegona to buy his first boat at the age of 19. He launched into semi-pro tournaments as a co-angler. More reality sank in.
“I was bombing out and thought I knew everything as a co-angler,” he said. “You know, I was the ‘Bassmaster’ growing up.”
Even so, Slegona gained success and sponsors until he punted the campaign altogether.
“I wasn’t ready so I just started going fun fishing,” he said. “It was a good thing to do because I fished like it was practice for a tournament, no pressure.”
Eventually, he regained confidence, improved skill and joined the adult chapter of the Orange County Bassmasters. He fished B.A.S.S. Nation tournaments and success returned.
Then came the bad news. Last year Slegona lost his job, although he gained enough financial security to be stable. Ironically, losing the job proved motivational to return to his dream.
Last year Slegona bought another new boat, Toyota Tundra and entered the two Opens divisions.
“After I got laid off I just decided to jump in, see how I can do,” he said.
He’s clearly eager to get started, purposely avoiding the Northern Opens, including a July event on Oneida Lake.
“They start too late and I want to get going on it now.”
If success continues it might be worthwhile to reconsider the Northern tour. While at Oneida he can park his truck and trailer at the same boat ramps where he searched for a fishing partner can humble him. This time, he won’t need one.