In only his second year of fishing the Bassmaster Opens, 24-year-old Alton Jones Jr. passed two essential milestones that advance his dream of becoming a professional bass angler. He qualified for the Bassmaster Elite Series by finishing second in the 2016 Central Open point standings. And, by winning the second Central Open of 2016 on the Red River, Jones also qualified for the 2017 GEICO Bassmaster Classic.
Considering that Jones is the son of veteran Bassmaster pro Alton Jones Sr., you might think he expected success to come easy. That is far from the truth.
Although Jones learned a great deal about how to catch bass from his father, he also saw firsthand how much effort and dedication is required to succeed on the professional level.
“Those guys will make you feel the pain,” Jones said of the Elite Series pros. “You’ve got to catch them every day.”
Because his father was fishing professionally before Jones was born, bass tournaments were part of his daily existence growing up. When Jones was 6 years old the entire Jones family began trekking to every Bassmaster tournament that Jones Sr. competed in. That included Jones’ mother Jimmye Sue and younger sisters Kristin and Jamie.
Jimmye Sue home schooled her children so the family could travel together throughout the tournament season. Bible study was an essential component of that education. The Joneses belong to the non-denominational Fellowship Bible Church.
“We would try to get together every night and read one chapter of the Bible,” Jones said. “Sometimes I, or one of my sisters, would read. It was good to share that as a family.”
Jones fished with his father on practice days for Bassmaster tournaments until a rule change in 2008 disallowed this. Jones regards those outings as being especially helpful with his own tournament fishing.
“Everybody can catch fish,” Jones said. “What sets us apart is the finding process. That is hard. It’s not fun. I learned at a young age about grinding it out on bad practice days.”
Jones traveled to his father’s tournaments with the family until he enrolled at Baylor University in 2010 with a major in marketing. Since both his sisters are now in college, the Jones family’s gypsy days are over.
A marketing degree would be a definite asset for anyone who pursues a professional angling career, Jones reasoned. It would also give him something to fall back on should his dream of becoming a bass pro fail to transpire.
“Nothing is for sure in this sport,” Jones said.
His parents also provided another incentive for going to college. If Jones made good grades, he would be allowed to use one of his father’s old bass boats. He began fishing local tournaments with the boat when he was a senior in high school.
Although Baylor did have a college fishing team, Jones preferred to compete in Texas team trails. These events pitted him against a higher level of competition and afforded an opportunity to bank some cash. His teammate at these tournaments was usually Brian Bauer.
Jones and Bauer won two major tournaments while attending Baylor and had several top five finishes. The money Jones banked from these events helped fund his entry fees for the Bassmaster Opens. After graduating from Baylor in 2014, Jones put deposits down on all nine Bassmaster Open tournaments for 2015. He gave himself a 2- to 3-year time frame to qualify for the Elite Series. If he couldn’t make that happen, he would “have to get a real job.”
“That first year was brutal for me,” Jones said. “I started strong with 31st at Toho and 24th at Ross Barnett. Then the wheels came off. I never cashed another check the rest of the year.”
After that first abysmal season, Jones could feel his dream slipping away. He began to question his own abilities. At night he would lie awake in bed and wonder if he was good enough.
The first tournament of Jones’ 2016 season was a Southern Open at Toho. He landed far down in 104th place and had to accept the hard reality that he already blown his chance of qualifying for the Elite Series in the Southern Opens.
After that depressing start, Jones competed in a tournament at Sam Rayburn Reservoir, which he knows well. He was hoping that a good finish there would boost his morale.
After the first weigh-in of the two-day event, Jones was back in 80th place. He asked himself why he even bothered to enter the tournament. The next day he leapfrogged into the top 20 with a catch of 20 pounds and finally added money to his bank account after a long drought.
That night he called his fiancée Kelsey Mazzon, whom he is slated to marry on May 5, 2017. They talked about the fishing slump he had been in.
“I think I got out of it today,” Jones told her.
Did he ever. Over the ensuing eight Bassmaster Open tournaments of 2016, Jones missed earning a check only once. And, that was because penalties for two dead fish dropped him to 44th place.
“I can’t explain it,” Jones says of his turnaround. “I think a lot of it is God’s timing.”
Jones will be fishing the Bassmaster Elite Series in 2017 along with his father. Although he dreams of someday winning the Bassmaster Classic and the Elite Series Angler of the Year title, he believes a great start would be to qualify for the 2018 Classic via the Elite Series point standings.
Besides the fishing, Jones is looking forward to bible study meetings that several of the pros engage in while at Elite Series tournaments, including his father, Ott DeFoe, Andy Montgomery, Brent Chapman and Mark Davis.
“We are more than just fishermen,” Jones said. “There is a bigger purpose. We have to use this platform for more than just fishing. All the glory is to Him.”
Jones’ current sponsors include Miracle-Ear, Skeeter Boats, Yamaha, Kistler Rods and ZoneLOC.