ORLANDO, Fla. — There were quite a few bright-eyed kids wearing tournament jerseys and strolling the aisles last week at ICAST, hoping to catch a glimpse of their fishing heroes and maybe pose for a picture or two.
If it wasn’t for his full beard and the unmistakable air of confidence he exudes, it would have been easy to think Bradley Roy was one of them.
But as young as he looks, Roy is no kid — and to be truthful, the term hasn’t fit him for a long time.
Roy is 27 years old now and in his ninth year on the Bassmaster Elite Series, having qualified when he was just 18.
He was a kid back then.
Today, he’s the leader of the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings with only two regular-season tournaments and the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship left to fish. He’s a virtual lock to qualify for his third Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods and one good paycheck away from pushing his career earnings past the half-million-dollar mark.
Suddenly, the kid from Lancaster, Ky., is all grown up — and in position to make all of his dreams come true.
“When I was growing up, I always dreamed of being at the top of this sport,” Roy said. “I always felt like I could be there.
“Now that I’ve got a chance to actually make it happen, some of the veteran guys that have won it — guys like Greg Hackney and Gerald Swindle — have talked to me about it. They told me that, realistically, these opportunities don’t come around very often. So you can’t take them for granted.”
Though it seems strange to say about a 27-year-old angler, Roy’s success has actually been a long time coming.
After earning his Elite Series invitation through the Southern Opens in 2009, he debated whether to turn pro or stick with the Opens for a few more years to gain experience. He ultimately decided to take the plunge — and it was a jump from the high-dive, for sure.
“I decided to try the Elites because I didn’t have a family to support, didn’t have a house payment,” Roy said. “Basically, all that was on the line then was entry fees.
“But my eyes were as big as they could be because I was putting the boat in next to people that I learned to fish from. I had been reading articles about these guys and watching them on TV, and now I had to try and figure out a way to beat them.”
Roy jokes that his early years on the Elite Series were like “paying for an expensive university.” Having grown up in Kentucky, there were many types of bass fishing he hadn’t experienced — and the Elites forced him to learn some techniques on the fly.
There were occasional flashes of greatness — like his eighth-place finish at Clear Lake in 2010 and his third-place showing on Alabama’s Wheeler Lake in 2011. But it was six years before he finally had enough consistent success to earn a Classic berth.
During the 2016 season, he finished in the money at five of the nine regular-season Elite Series events. He placed 32nd in the final AOY standings and went on to place seventh in the 2017 Classic on Lake Conroe in Texas.
“My learning curve had to be sped up,” he said. “In Kentucky, we didn’t have a lot of grass to fish. There wasn’t a lot of sight fishing going on. I had to learn those things pretty quick because it was costing me money.”
Roy continued his success during the 2017 season, earning five checks once again en route to a second-straight Classic berth.
Since then, he’s been one of the hottest anglers in the world. This year, he’s earned paychecks in every event with five finishes of 26th place or better and a pair of Top 10s.
“I feel like a grizzled, old veteran because I’ve been out here so long,” said Roy, adding that none of his success would have been possible without unwavering support from his family and friends back home. “I think I’m ahead of the game mentally compared to what most people would be at my age, but I’ve still got youth on my side.