Joey Nania has packed a lifetime of bass fishing into his 23 years, and it shows.
Nania nabbed 18th place at Florida’s Lake Tohopekaliga last January, the first of the three 2015 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Opens presented by Allstate. It was a strong start to his season, but that’s just the tip of the Nania iceberg.
When you look at how Nania’s life has revolved around bass fishing, you get the sense that he is destined to become a major player as a professional bass angler.
Nania grew up in Washington state, about as far from bass fishing’s mainstream as you can get in the lower 48. His father, Joel, started him fishing early on Liberty Lake where the Nania family lives.
“That lake has trout, walleye, perch and bass,” Nania said. “I was 5 or 6 when I caught my first bass. I’ve been obsessed with it ever since.”
When Nania was 7 and 8 years old, he was allowed to fish for hours from the family dock, provided he wore a life vest.
“When I was 12 my Uncle Jimmy bought me an 8-foot raft with oars,” Nania said.
The inflatable raft expanded Nania’s fishing frontier beyond the dock. He graduated to a canoe the next year, which let him venture even farther in search of bass.
At age 15 Nania’s father let him fish alone from the family boat, a 17-foot, aluminum V-hull Hewescraft. The caveat was that he could only use the electric motor, and he could not venture out of the bay where the family dock was.
“I learned how to flip docks and got good at skipping with baitcasting and spinning tackle,” Nania said.
Since the lake was clear, Nania also experimented with light line finesse tactics and “did a ton of bed fishing.”
“I got good at learning the tendencies of bedding bass,” Nania said.
Nania credits the Inland Empire Bass Club, which he joined at age 12, for giving him a solid foundation of bass fishing knowledge. Two of the elder members, Art Acuff and Bill Demaris, were especially helpful. Both have since passed on.
“They were great guys that took me under their wing,” Nania said. “They didn’t mind sharing with me and wanted me to succeed.”
Demaris owned a small soft plastics company and became Nania’s first sponsor when Nania was 14.
Another Nania milestone happened at age 15 when he won his first club tournament fishing out of the family Hewescraft.
“The old Hewescraft only had a top speed of 35 mph, but it caught me a lot of fish,” Nania said.
Where Nania truly excelled was competing in the Junior Bassmaster program. In 2005, at age 13, he won the Junior Bassmaster World Championship (JWC) in Pittsburgh, Pa., fishing the Allegheny River.
The adult partner he drew for the single practice and tournament days was none other than Kevin VanDam. The adults were allowed to fish with the young competitors on the practice day.
“He (KVD) told me my spinnerbait was too big and ugly,” Nania said. “He gave me a smaller spinnerbait and trimmed the skirt so it had a smaller profile.”
During the tournament, the adults drove the boat but were not allowed to offer any help or advice. The Junior anglers had to decide where and how to fish.
Nania caught 12 smallmouth from the Allegheny that day on the spinnerbait that KVD had doctored for him, but 11 of them were too short. His only keeper of the day came with three minutes left. The 1-pound, 4-ounce smallmouth earned Nania the winner’s trophy.
In 2008 Nania won another JWC on Geary County State Lake in Kansas. Frigid weather and strong winds made that event especially challenging. This time a little Spro crankbait carried the day for Nania.
In all, Nania has fished in four JWC events and two similar events put on by FLW. He also has 19 Bassmaster Opens under his belt. Although he has yet to qualify for the Bassmaster Classic, he has been to 11 of them while working for companies in the fishing industry.
“My education is the fishing industry,” Nania said. “I’ve grown up working with sponsors and meeting people. I like teaching fishing as much as I like fishing.”
During the 2009 Bassmaster Classic at the Red River, Nania met evangelist Rick Hughes of Cropwell, Ala. Hughes is also an avid bass fisherman. He is the reason Nania moved to Cropwell at age 19 to become a fishing guide.
Nania currently guides about 100 days a year on Coosa River reservoirs, including Neely Henry, Lay Lake and Logan Martin.
“Rick Hughes taught me how to fish those lakes,” Nania said.
Besides guiding and fishing tournaments, Nania works part time at the Bass Pro Shops in Leeds, Ala., and hosts a TV fishing show called Sweetwater. The show is in its first season and airs on NBC Sports Network’s Destination America and the Sportsman Channel.
Soon after Nania moved to Alabama, he met Jessica Martin. They married a year later. Nearly a year after their nuptials, they were blessed with son Zeek, “a future pro angler.”
Jessica and Zeek travel with Nania to all his tournaments and to wherever he shoots a Sweetwater show.
“I feel that the only way to have a pro career and a good family life is to do everything together as a team as much as you can,” Nania said.
Nania would love to qualify for the Elite Series but is quite satisfied with his life just as it is.
The Nania family Hewescraft is still in use in Washington. Nania’s current ride is a Nitro Z9 powered by a 250 Mercury outboard.