Queen’s gambit comes up short at James River

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Last year, Jeff Queen — father of Bassmaster Elite Series angler KJ Queen — won the co-angler of the year title in the Bassmaster Opens.

RICHMOND, Va. – Jeff Queen is used to fishing behind others, so the fact that he didn’t get much water to himself during the Basspro.com Bassmaster Northern Open on the James River didn’t bother him one bit. He finished in third place, just an ounce out of second, and made mop-up duty work wonders.

“I went behind people the whole time,” he said. “I even culled at the very end, right at the ramp where I’d seen 50 boats fish all week. My Marshal said he’d never seen that work before.”

He believes that a big part of his ability to catch fish that others miss is the unique sound profile and erratic action of the Switch Blade tungsten jig, made by his namesake tackle company, Queen Tackle. It’s an endeavor that he runs with his son, Bassmaster Elite Series rookie KJ Queen. The younger Queen, currently 28th in the Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings, likewise credits the lure with a large part of his success, both on tour and during his previous success in the college ranks at Bethel University. In 2019 he and his partner were the Team of the Year in the Bassmaster College Series. 

“In almost every Elite Series tournament I’ve caught at least a few key fish on it,” KJ said. “I’ve always felt like anywhere I’ve gone I can go right behind people and catch fish on it. I remember a tournament at Smith Lake where we fished a pocket full of bushes and three boats fished right in front of us – we went in behind them and caught a 6-pounder.”

The elder Queen’s willingness to take the second shot at prime targets manifested itself in 2020, when the father-son pair traveled together to fish the full slate of Falcon Rods Opens. Dad fished as a co-angler, and KJ was a boater.

“We fished daylight to dark at least a week before every tournament,” Jeff recalled. He engineers fiber optic components for Corning, and the flexibility of his job allows him to do it from anywhere. He may have opened up the laptop or engaged in a meaningful conference call from the back deck of his son’s boat on a few occasions, but it worked out for both of them. KJ finished fifth in the combined Opens standings on the pro side, and Jeff won the co-angler of the year title. That not only encouraged him to move to the front of the boat, but provided him with paid entry fees to do so. After struggling at the Harris Chain and Douglas Lake in his first two pro appearances, the third-place finish matched his best overall result with Bassmaster from either end of the boat.

KJ would love to see his dad out on tour with him, or at least have them both qualify for the 2022 Bassmaster Classic. “We really work well together when we’re out there,” he said. “Sometimes we butt heads, but I’m so fired up to see him doing well out there. I think it’s awesome. For both of us to be at the Classic, that would be a dream come true.”

Just as KJ followed Jeff’s success this week online, Jeff is proud of all that his son has accomplished in short order, and he tracks KJ's results religiously. His only regret is, “I don’t get to fish with him nearly as much as I used to.” That could change if they were both on the Elite Series, but Jeff recognizes that he has a secure and lucrative career with Corning and would be hesitant to give that up. That’s why their efforts together at Queen Tackle are so meaningful, and not just because it provides them with the tools they need on the water, but also it strengthens their bond.

“We did it together,” Jeff said. “It’s a nice side business, and can be something for me to do in retirement and something for him to do in the offseason. Years and years ago I was talking to Hank Parker, and he told me that his biggest regret was never starting his own lure company. He figured he’d left millions on the table by not having that control. He told me not to make that same mistake.” 

Jeff Queen may not be the first one to walk this path, but part of the advantage of following others is you can avoid repeating their mistakes. Whether it’s the lure business or his rise from champion co-angler to the front of the boat, he’s humble enough to allow the second shot to be the first advantage.