After the first two Bassmaster Southern Open tournaments of 2021, Tennessee’s Jacob Foutz is atop the Southern Opens Angler of the Year standings. Given that Foutz is only 22 years old, he appears to be ahead of schedule. However, Foutz believes he is running behind.
This impatient mindset is mainly due to Foutz competing in the 2018 Bassmaster Classic at age 19. He qualified for bass fishing’s greatest show by winning the 2017 Carhartt College Classic Bracket.
The Classic gave Foutz a mind-blowing dose of big-time tournament angling. He fished the 2018 Eastern and Central Opens in quest of his holy grail, an Elite Series berth. After the eight Open events were over, he was well short of his goal. He was hurt and frustrated.
He returned to Bryan College on the shores of Lake Chickamauga to continue pursuing a marketing degree. But his failure to qualify for the Elite Series continued to eat at him. If he stayed in college, he would have to wait two years before taking another shot at the Elites via the Bassmaster Opens. He decided to put his education on hold and chase his fishing dreams.
“I couldn’t bear to wait another two years to fish the Opens, and I didn’t want to run up a big college debt,” Foutz said.
Foutz had to sit out the 2019 Bassmaster Opens because he didn’t have the funds to fish them. To generate an income and maximize his time on the water, he started his own guiding business on Lake Chickamauga. He leveraged his reputation as a Classic contender and used the business skills he learned in college to attract clients.
He was soon guiding regularly and fishing nearly every day. After a year on the job, he had the grubstake he needed to rejoin the Bassmaster Opens. Since he is self-employed, he can schedule time off whenever he needs to fish a tournament.
He was back in the saddle in 2020 fishing the Southern Opens, but he again fell short of the Elites. Undaunted, he is competing in the Southern and Central Opens in 2021.
If he is among the top three in the Southern Opens AOY standings after fishing that division’s final event at Lake Norman this week, he will earn a place on the Elite roster.
While growing up in northeast Ohio, Foutz’s father, Brian, and grandfathers, Jim Foutz and Don Oehlstrom, were all instrumental in stoking his bass fishing embers. His began fishing tournaments with his father at age 6. They continue to fish together regularly and usually compete in some type of local team trail.
Because Ohio’s small inland reservoirs have limited offshore bass fishing options, Foutz grew up hammering shoreline cover with a flipping rod and power-fishing tactics. He began to experiment with offshore methods at age 11. This is when he was allowed to fish alone from the family’s 16-foot aluminum boat, which was powered by a 9.9 horsepower outboard.
“My dad would drop me off before work at 2,000-acre Tappan Lake, and he’d pick me up after work,” Foutz said. “I started teaching myself a whole bunch of stuff I’d been reading about.”
His offshore knowledge expanded exponentially at age 14 when his family moved from Ohio to Charleston, Tenn., which is a short drive from Lake Chickamauga. During their first few years in Tennessee, Foutz and his father fished the huge lake from the 16-foot boat with the 9.9 outboard. When they stepped up to a more powerful fiberglass bass boat they were free to roam the entire reservoir.
By experimenting on their own and with the help of new fishing friends, they gradually learned how to tap into Chickamauga’s offshore bass. Now that Foutz guides there, he and his clients fish offshore more often than not. However, he is quite comfortable fishing shallow or doing whatever it takes to get bites.
“My parents have supported me in every way,” Foutz said. “I could never repay them. The only thing I’ve wanted to do my whole life is to fish the Classic and the Elite Series.”
For Foutz, that can’t happen soon enough.
His sponsors include 44 Tackle Company, Not Finished Fishing, Woo Tungsten and Seaguar Line.