New Elite: College champ Whitaker joins Elites

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Ronnie Moore

The Bassmaster College Series is proving to be an undeniable stepping-stone to the Bassmaster Elite Series. Add North Carolina’s 25-year-old Jake Whitaker to the list of Bassmaster college participants who will be fishing as an Elite pro in 2018.

Whitaker’s initiation into fishing began when his father, Tim, took him to nearby ponds and creeks when he was a tad. His father competed in local team bass tournaments and Whitaker began fishing these events with him when he was 13.

They were members of the Fairview Bass and Buddies club in Fairview, N.C. Whitaker is still close with the club’s members.

As soon as he was old enough, Whitaker began fishing BFL weekend tournaments. He entered the first two of these events as a co-angler, but he didn’t enjoy fishing from the back deck and not having any control over where to fish. From then on Whitaker competed as a boater.

Whitaker fished the BFLs and many local tournaments before going to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where he graduated with a civil engineering degree in 2015. While in college, Whitaker competed in the Bassmaster College Series. He and his team partner Andrew Helms won the 2014 Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship at Chatuge Lake, which straddles the Georgia/North Carolina border.

After graduating, Whitaker decided to take a shot at becoming a professional bass angler before embarking on a career in civil engineering. He signed on to fish the 2016 Bassmaster Northern Opens and took a job as a landscaper with Dotson Property Maintenance in Richmond, Va.

“My boss, Steve Dotson, lets me have time off to fish the tournaments,” Whitaker said.

The 2016 Northern Opens gave Whitaker a harsh introduction to big-time tournament fishing. He finished 126th at Oneida Lake, 72nd at the James River and 76th at Lake Champlain. That season Whitaker “fished baits that had worked in the past according to my research from previous tournaments.”

During his 2017 round with the Northern Opens, Whitaker decided to fish the confidence baits that produce for him on Hartwell and other lakes he fishes near home.

“The lakes on the Savanna Chain are tough,” Whitaker said. “They are different from anywhere else and the bass act different than normal bass.”

Blueback herring are a major bass forage at Hartwell and at some of Whitaker’s other home lakes. Because herring tend to roam, Whitaker stays on the move and fishes reaction baits, such as flukes and topwater stickbaits. He also prefers fishing thin water with shallow crankbaits and skipping jigs under docks.

“In the 2017 Opens, I fished the way I like to fish and didn’t worry about what everybody else was doing,” Whitaker said. “You can catch bass about any way you want to most of the time, but you have to have confidence to make what you’re doing work.”

During his 2017 Northern Opens campaign, Whitaker fished a walking topwater bait and a crankbait at Oneida to finish in 40th place. A Pop-R carried him to 10th place at the James River. Skipping jigs under docks yielded 14th place at the final event on Douglas Lake. That jumped him to third place in the AOY standings and earned him an invitation to join the Elite Series.

“My mom, Lisa, is a huge reason I am where I am today,” Whitaker said. “She has always been there with words of encouragement after a bad tournament and words of praise after a successful tournament. Also, she sends me a text before blastoff at all of my tournaments wishing me luck and to have fun. My family has been a huge part to my success, dad, mom and my sister Amanda.”

Whitaker’s dream is to have a long career as an Elite Series pro. Despite his early success, he is grounded in reality.

“I’m going to just be myself and do the best I can,” Whitaker said. “I know there will be rough patches along the way, but I want to have fun and enjoy it. There are a lot of fishermen out there who would love to fish the Elites. I’ve been blessed. I want to make the most of it.”

Whitaker’s 2017 sponsors included K-9 Fishing Line and Yank-Um Custom Tackle.