The Opens experience

Carl Jocumsen arrived in the U.S. nine years ago with a suitcase, rod tube, tacklebox and a dream. That was to become the first Australian to qualify for the Bassmaster Elite Series. Trouble was, Jocumsen had no experience in American tournaments, or any understanding of the nuances of catching bass here.

“I was so intimidated, I mean there were so many details that I had no way to prepare for when I arrived,” he said. “I did a lot of online research, but I was overwhelmed with everything I needed to learn about.”

It was a tough road. YouTube only scratches the surface of what it takes to compete at the sport’s highest level. Two years ago, Jocumsen decided to pay it forward for anglers wanting to be schooled in all those details. The classroom would be the Basspro.com Bassmaster Opens, where students would get a firsthand opportunity to experience what it’s really like to compete in a game-time experience.

The idea of an Opens experience came during a trip to his homeland. Jocumsen was overwhelmed and humbled by the support of his countrymen when making personal appearances. Everywhere he went, Australians expressed interest in experiencing the Opens, just as he did for the first time in 2011.

Jocumsen solicited his Facebook followers in Australia to submit essays on why they wanted to come to America for the ultimate tournament experience. Four entrants would be chosen and the winners would spend the entire trip with Jocumsen, witnessing firsthand how he lives, prepares, practices and competes in an Opens tournament. At the same time, each winner would compete as a co-angler.

An overwhelming majority of applicants were Americans. With a travel ban in place for Australians, the experience is now available to Americans. The response was overwhelming.

Jocumsen and his wife Kayla take a methodical approach to make sure an applicant is a good fit for the total immersion experience. They want anglers to be skilled enough to comprehend what they will encounter.

“You need a certain skill level to fully benefit from the trip,” said Jocumsen. “Some basic knowledge and experience of tournaments and fishing is a must, otherwise they will be lost in what I want to teach them.”

The $5,000 cost includes the co-angler entry fee, meals prepared by Kayla, lodging and the use of Jocumsen’s tackle. Anglers fish a 12-hour or more practice session for three days that involves a deep dive into tournament etiquette, electronics, lure selection and presentation, tournament strategy, and all the other details involved in a day of tournament fishing. From practice to final day of competition, evenings are spent going through the same meticulous tackle preparation routine that Jocumsen will use in the tournament day. He packs the co-angler’s tacklebox, helps choose rod-and-reel outfits and gives a lesson in what to expect during the tournament.

Ben Brumley’s application moved to the top of the list for an opening at the Eastern Open on Lake Hartwell. Ironically, Brumley, from Priest Lake, Idaho, was only 15 minutes from the Jocumsens when they made the decision contact him for a phone interview. At the time, they were in Idaho visiting Kayla’s family.

“Ben was the ultimate person for this experience because he didn’t need to catch a bass, he wanted to learn, which he did,” said Jocumsen. “He took the next step up.”

“After talking with Carl and Kayla it was like I’d known them for years,” added Brumley.

He flew from Idaho to South Carolina with two carry-on bags, one of those containing two familiar reels in case he needed them, and some soft plastics, and nothing more.

Brumley went through the full experience from pre-dawn to well after dark, learning about every detail of how Carl would make adjustments to his tackle and strategy throughout the tournament.

“What’s cool is he got to spend three days with me, and then two more days seeing his pro partners break down the lake, learn even more from them,” said Jocumsen. “It will add even more to his experience."

“I learned so much about situational scenarios in real time, in the moment and how Carl adjusts to changing conditions like we had on Hartwell,” he said. “The size of the lake made it look intimidating on a map, but Carl broke it down in a way that I can use on any lake.”

Learning about electronics was another high point of the trip.

“You can’t fully understand how to use them by just watching video, because it takes real-time, hands-on experience,” he said. “Carl showed me how effective electronics can be for locating fish, even more so than I thought was possible.”

Brumley also wants to upgrade his boat, and the experience allowed him to ride and fish from Carl’s Bass Cat, and spend the day in his boater partner’s Phoenix. His partner uses Lowrance, while Carl has Humminbird, and yet again, Brumley got the hands-on demonstration of all the features of different brands in their working environment.

“I never imagined that would be part of the experience,” he said. “Now, I can make a more confident and educated purchase decision.”

Brumley said packing up and driving across the country to compete in an Open would have been a foolish decision, given what he learned during his experience. Above all else, he gained friends for life.

“Carl and Kayla have been so accommodating, and it’s been a mutual fit,” he said. “They are great together and are eager to share everything they know about this life.

And they should. There could be no better way to learn about tournament life than from a Bassmaster Elite Series champion, who just nine years ago arrived from Australia with no experience at all.