Northern Open: Doggedly determined Patrick Pierce

Sunshine State angler Patrick Pierce attended the University of Florida to become a fisheries biologist. His real goal was to have a job that would keep him close to bass fishing waters.

Pierce grew up on Florida’s west coast near St. Petersburg and fished saltwater off piers and bridges with his father, Ron. A few times each year, his family would travel to northern Florida and visit James Foracker, aka “Uncle Bubba.”

Uncle Bubba, Pierce and his father would go afloat in a 12-foot johnboat on small lakes and cast for bass. Pierce was 14 years old when he hooked and landed a 10-pound largemouth from the middle seat of the little johnboat on a Junebug Culprit worm.

That bass forever changed Pierce’s life.

“As soon as I was old enough to drive, I drove up to Uncle Bubba’s house and permanently borrowed his johnboat,” Pierce said.

From then on, Pierce went bass fishing at every opportunity. He was still at it when he graduated with a masters of science in fisheries from the University of Georgia.

Pierce’s first job was at Georgia’s Russell Dam.

“I worked with advanced sonar to estimate fish mortality caused by the dam,” Pierce said.

Assured of a steady income, Pierce immediately bought a 361 Ranger and joined the Athens Bassmasters. He launched his Ranger often at lakesRussell, Hartwell, Clarks Hill and Keowee.

“I learned about blueback herring lakes when I fished the Savanna chain,” Pierce said. “I grew up fishing in Florida, so I was familiar with shallow, grassy lakes. I fished Lanier while I was in college.”

Every three years or so, Pierce worked as a fisheries biologist in different areas of Georgia to expand his bass fishing knowledge. This allowed him to sample the Coosa River lakes and other waters.

As he moved about the state with his job, Pierce joined other bass clubs and began fishing regional tournament circuits. Throughout this phase, he dreamed of breaking into big-time professional B.A.S.S. tournaments.

What held Pierce back were those nasty realities known as time and money.

“One of the downsides to being a fisheries biologist is that you don’t make a lot of money,” Pierce said.

Pierce’s income increased substantially 14 years ago when he took a job at Environmental Services Inc. in Jacksonville, Fla. This private consulting firm helps developers cope with federal and state environmental regulations regarding endangered or threatened species.

With a healthier bank account and more flexible working hours, Pierce eventually set his sights on the Bassmaster Open tournaments.

“Back then it was rare to get in on your first try,” Pierce said. “I spent three years speed dialing to get on the waiting list for the Opens.”

In 2007 Pierce was finally able to sign on to fish the Southern and Central Bassmaster Opens. His best finish that year was 14th place at Wheeler Lake.

Since then, Pierce has fished the Southern Opens every year, the Central Opens for many of those years and has added the Northern Opens starting in 2013. He has come close to qualifying for the Bassmaster Elite Series two times.

Does Pierce believe his background as a fisheries biologist gives him an edge when he fishes tournaments?

“I think so,” Pierce said. “It’s given me a general understanding of what’s going on beneath the surface. But sometimes it makes me think a little bit too much.”

Despite Pierce’s emphasis on tournament fishing, he found time to woo his wife Lara. They celebrated their 11th wedding anniversary in August 2015. Lara teaches second grade and runs the school’s fishing program. Their 9-year-old daughter Lily is a competitive soccer player.

Pierce has worked hard to establish a firm foundation of support that will allow a smooth transition when he qualifies for the Elite Series.

His sponsors include Star Bright, Triton, Mercury, TH Marine, St. Croix rods, Lew’s reels, Costa sunglasses, Strike King, Humminbird, Minn Kota, Odyssey Batteries and Miller’s Boating Center in Ocala, Fla.