After the third and final Bass Pro Shops Southern Open for 2016 was over, Jade Keeton of Florence, Ala., claimed seventh place in the Angler of the Year (AOY) standings. While it was a strong showing against some of the nation’s top bass pros and hot local sticks, Keeton missed qualifying for the Bassmaster Elite Series by only two places.
If some of the top five anglers on the AOY list turn down their chance to fish the Elite Series, it is possible that Keeton might be invited to compete against the best bass anglers on planet Earth.
“It would be a dream just to get invited to the Elite Series,” says the 29-year-old angler. “Being able to fish it would be the icing on the cake.”
Whatever happens regarding the Elite Series, Keeton will be fishing bass tournaments at any level he can, whether that means the Elite Series, the Bassmaster Opens or on the weekend level.
“I’m all about the competition,” Keeton says. “I just want to compete.”
Should Keeton receive an invitation to the Elite Series, whether or not he accepts it would be a family decision. The main players in that decision would include his wife Lakin and his mother, Carol, his “biggest fan and supporter.” Add to this Keeton’s father, Owen, who started the family’s wholesale produce business more than 40 years ago.
Keeton manages the business, which buys 90 percent of its produce locally and from across the U.S. At times of the year when certain fruits can’t be grown in the U.S., they are purchased from Central and South America.
Were it not for the support of his wife and parents, Keeton would not be on the verge of becoming a bass pro. Then again, fishing the Elite Series entails a considerable financial investment and months away from home.
“The work situation will be one of the hardest stepping stones if I get invited to fish the Elites,” Keeton says. “Dad is more comfortable when I’m there running the business. After all, that is my job.”
The biggest fishing influence in Keeton’s life was his grandfather, Owen Keeton Sr., who passed away in September of 2015. Granddad Keeton lived on Wilson Lake. When Keeton was a tad, he and his grandfather enjoyed countless outings on Shoals Creek in a johnboat powered by a trolling motor.
“My grandfather retired from the Air Force,” Keeton said. “His favorite bait was the Jitterbug. I keep an antique Jitterbug in my boat for good luck.”
When Keeton was 15 years old, he joined a local bass club that is no longer in existence. He stopped competing in club tournaments in 2007 when he began fishing BFL tournaments as a co-angler with his friend Andrew Hamilton. In 2008 they fished two divisions of the BFLs and qualified for the regionals in both divisions. The first regional was at Lake Seminole. Keeton finished in second place and qualified for the 2009 All American. He won the All American as a co-angler and pocketed $70,000.
Over the next two years, Keeton competedon the FLW Tour as a co-angler.
“That was a learning experience that I couldn’t put a price tag on,” Keeton says. “It’s a big reason for my success now.”
In 2012 and 2013 Keeton fished local tournaments and stayed close to home. However, he badly wanted to compete in the Bassmaster Opens. He signed on for the 2015 Southern Opens and finished the season 41st in the AOL standings. He struggled at the first of the three events, which was at Florida’s Lake Kissimmee.
“I had never fished anywhere in Florida before that tournament,” Keeton says. “I didn’t know what to expect.”
The result was an abysmal 104th place finish. The Southern Opens returned to Kissimmee in 2016. Keeton proved to be a quick study by finishing in 23rd place. He also made the money in the other two Southern Opens in 2016.
Keeton feels most confident when fishing thin water. Shallow cranking, flipping and frogging are his favorite tactics.
His main sponsor is Allstate Insurance (the Brad Tank Agency). Other sponsors include Ranger Boats, Mercury Marine, Power-Pole and MHX World Class Rod Blanks.