I can’t begin to explain how amazing 2017 was for my fishing career. The first cast at Oneida Lake in the first Northern Open of the year seems like just the other day, but in a total of seven days on the water my life changed forever. In just my second year fishing the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens I qualified for the Bassmaster Elite Series, which is something I’ve dreamed about my entire life. The dream seemed so inconceivable that I was happy just trying because honestly, I just love fishing.
I didn’t set a two-year timeline to qualify as a definitive deadline, but rather I needed to show myself that I could catch them good enough to hold my own. That is one big reason why I pursued the Northern Opens. The 2017 schedule was about as diverse as it gets. Oneida is a smallmouth and largemouth fish factory in New York, and it is taking bigger weights to win every year we visit there. As soon as you think it is getting dominated by smallmouth, boom largemouth jump up and take the win. Then we went to the James River, which is a tidal fishery and is predominately shallow. The final event of the Northern Opens was Douglas Lake, which is a drawdown lake in the fall. It’s also a highland type lake in East Tennessee, which can be tough.
I managed to get a check in all three with finishes of 40th, 10th and 14th. Fishing Championship Saturday at the James River was a neat experience, especially with the drive-thru weigh-in. It has me itching to try and accomplish that at the Elite level, because I can’t imagine how cool that will be.
For those who don’t know me, my name is Jake Whitaker and I, too, am a product of the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series. I fished at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and those four years were about as awesome as I could’ve expected. I met lifelong friends in college fishing and found out a lot about myself during the process. Fishing against anglers that turned into Elite pros like Matt and Jordan Lee, Brett Preuett and John Hunter is an honor because it is somewhat of a brotherhood and fraternity in fishing. College fishing is getting huge, and I love being a product of that series.
I got my big break in college in 2014. Andrew Helms and I won the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship at Lake Chatuge, which was just two hours from my home. Winning solidified everything I had worked for up to that point. It’s so hard to win these days no matter what level you compete at so it’s important to respect every chance you get. Fishing is so competitive nowadays and with an influx of competitors there are rarely events that you can coast through. Experiencing the College Classic Bracket and winning the Championship planted a seed about possibly fishing at the next level and in 2015 that seed was watered even more.
I notched a top 4 at the Championship and made another College Classic Bracket. This time I wasn’t just down the road like in 2014, I was across the country in Wisconsin. You can’t put a price on the on those experiences and the TV time is a part of the process.
If I could pass along any advice to younger anglers it would be to fish. Fish as much and as often as you can. I never pursued sponsors, which isn’t always the right thing to do, but what it did help me with was learning to fish. When all your thoughts are consumed with learning and experimenting while on the water you will be better equipped to make the bigger jumps in competition.
I can’t express how important it is to have a foundation of support and a foundation for your brand. Tell the world who you are as a person by documenting your journey and then you can approach companies about relationships, not sponsorships. Once you understand what skills and platforms bring value to companies, you will be more equipped to represent them. Overall, learn to catch fish, do your best and the fishing will get you in front of companies to share your story and showcase your brand.
Feel free to reach out with any questions or encouragement on my social media channels. My Facebook is @JakeWhitakerFishing and on Instagram at @Jake_Whitaker