Chris Groh of Spring Grove, Ill., makes his living as a tile setter and has run his company, Tiletech, for the past 14 years. However, for most of Groh’s 39 years he has dreamed of becoming a professional bass angler. He made a momentous step toward that reality by finishing fifth in the 2017 Bassmaster Northern Open AOY standings, and now he will be fishing the Bassmaster Elite Series.
“It’s been a goal and a dream,” Groh said. “And quite the rocky road.”
He encountered a rough patch of road when his father, Gary, passed away unexpectedly a few weeks before Groh competed in his first Bassmaster Open. The tournament was the 2016 Southern Open on Florida’s Kissimmee Chain of Lakes.
“When my dad died, it made me even more determined to succeed,” Groh said.
Groh’s father got him fishing early in life and encouraged him to chase his dream. Groh grew up in Northern Illinois, literally on the bank of the Fox Chain of Lakes. He began fishing for carp and bullhead in his backyard when he was 4 years old.
His father was a multi-species angler who fished for walleye, muskie, bass and other warmwater species. Groh and his father often fished the Fox Chain, which is where he got his first taste of bass fishing. By 8 years old, Groh had made bass his top priority.
“I was a burden on family fishing trips to Canada,” Groh said. “Everybody else wanted to catch walleye to fill the freezer. I always wanted to go for smallmouth and largemouth.”
The community that Groh lived in has a strong contingent of bass tournament anglers. Every Sunday and Wednesday evening there is invariably some type of bass tournament taking place in the area. The term “Chainrats" has been used to describe tournament hammers on the Fox Chain since Groh got hooked on bass fishing and before.
The hub for bass anglers and other outdoor addicts in the region is Triangle Sports and Marine in Antioch, Ill. When Groh was 11 and 12 years old, his mother, Julianne, would drop him off at Triangle Sports on her way to the grocery store. Triangle was Groh’s “Field of Dreams.” He never wanted to leave after entering the hallowed establishment. He gawked at the tackle and soaked up whatever information he could glean from the store’s patrons about bass fishing.
“Mom knew I’d never leave,” Groh said. “The guys at Triangle were like babysitters for her.”
When Groh turned 14, Triangle’s owner, Greg Dickson, almost had no choice but to hire the youngster for part-time work. Dickson is a dedicated bass tournament angler. He has won several boats fishing local tournaments and competed in a number of Bassmaster Invitationals during the 1990s.
Besides selling minnows, crawlers, leeches and doing other chores at Triangle, Groh would gleefully help Dickson prepare for his tournaments. That included tasks such as changing hooks and waxing Dickson’s boat.
“He always included me in the little things that needed to be done before he left for a tournament,” Groh said. “He showed me how to do things the right way. He kind of trained me to be a bass pro.”
It was in Dickson’s store that Groh learned how to flip and pitch by casting into practice buckets. Even after working an eight-hour shift on the weekend, Groh would hang around the store. He loved the environment so much that he worked there until he was 20 years old.
It didn’t take Groh long to begin applying the bass fishing knowledge he was learning at Triangle. He competed in his first tournament at age 14. It was a local Wednesday evening league, and his mother had to sign a permission slip to allow her son’s participation.
The following year Groh began fishing tournaments out of an aluminum boat with Jimmy Schell. They have been team partners ever since and have done well together.
Over the years, Groh has fished in countless local team and individual tournaments. He has also competed in a handful of BFL events and the EverStart Series in 2004. He’s had his share of highs and lows. A few of the highs include winning a bass boat at a regional championship in 2008 on the Mississippi River out of La Crosse, Wis., and winning the Minnetonka Classic in 2011.
However, life’s inevitable twists and turns prevented Groh from competing in the Bassmaster Opens until 2016. He nearly qualified for the Elite Series that year, finishing seventh in the Southern Opens AOY standings. Groh participated in all three Bassmaster Open divisions in 2017. It was the Northern division in which he earned his invitation to the Elite Series.
“I don’t want to do tile work anymore,” Groh said. “It’s a trade that breaks your body. I’m going to give 110 percent to survive in the Elites. If I fail, I’ll get back on the Opens trail and do it again. I eat sleep and breathe bass fishing.”
Groh’s sponsors in the Opens included Trilliu Yoga in Antioch, Ill. (a studio that is owned by his sister Sara Thomas), Broken Oar Marina and Restaurants, Triangle Sports and Marine, Phoenix Boats, Mercury Marine, Power-Pole, Boat Works of Keyesport, Ill., Fuzion Apparel, Spraytech Inc. (bed liners), Gill Technical Fishing Gear, Amphibia Floating Eye Gear, Xcite Baits, Fox Lake Propellers, Sealstone Countertops, First Class Realty, Boatyard, Dobyns Rods and Abu Garcia.