A University of Kentucky graduate goes from cap and gown to rod and reel.
With an ever-shrinking job market, college graduates are looking for ways to establish themselves outside of the traditional workplace. Brandon Card of LaFollette, Tenn., may have his share of the pie already carved up.
Card, 22, recently graduated from the University of Kentucky with a degree in landscape architecture, but rather than going into his field (no pun intended), Card will head out to the lake to pursue his dream of becoming a professional bass angler.
Card grew up fishing in northern Tennessee with his father and got his start in tournament fishing at 14 when his brother got a bass boat.
"We'd fish tournaments around the area, but never got into any clubs," he said.
He wasn't a part of a bass club until he joined the University of Kentucky Bass Fishing Team his sophomore year. His junior year, he was elected president of the club. During his three-year term, Card scheduled the team's events, organized registrations for lakes and procured funding for the UK student government. Among local and college wins, Card's tournament résumé includes a win on Oneida Lake at the Ultimate Match Fishing College Edition event in the summer of 2008. Card also happened to qualify for the 2009 BASS Federation Nation Championship presented by Yamaha and Skeeter on the Harris Chain of Lakes in Tavares, Fla., Oct. 28-30.
The first major step to the Federation Nation Championship was his state qualifier on Barren River Lake near Lucas, Ky. A bad start left him in dire straits going into Day 2.
"That event was really something," he said. "During practice I had a good buzzbait and flipping bite, but during the first day of competition my fish all left the shallows. With an hour left, I only had 2 1/2 pounds in the boat, so I decided to throw a jig deeper. After that, I got seven keepers and culled up to a little over 13 pounds."
Card took this lesson into Day 2 and after hooking into a 5-pound-plus fish on his first cast, he never looked back. That event propelled him to the BASS Federation Nation Southern Divisional at Lake Gaston in Roanoke Rapids, N.C. A top six finish here would mean a trip to the Federation Nation Championship.
"The same sort of thing happened to me at Gaston as the state qualifier," Card said "I had two really average days during Days 1 and 2, but then I took a gamble on main lake points and by 8 o'clock I was culling."
Card weighed in 13 fish that weighed 31 pounds, 8 ounces, besting the Kentucky team by over 8 pounds. He finished fifth overall, securing himself a berth in the Championship.
Card believes he has the skills to be a professional angler, and between now and the Championship he will flex his marketing muscle to try to attract sponsors.
"I made DVDs and sent them out to a lot of companies with my résumé, so hopefully that will get me a little notoriety," he said. "Until then, I'm going to fish as much as possible and meet as many people as I can to get some help along the way."
Card hasn't been completely without help; he says his parents have been instrumental in jump-starting his career. When he turned 16, Card's father got him a boat. Aside from financial help here and there, Card says the most important thing his parents give him is their encouragement and continued support of his choice to become a professional angler.
"I was really blessed to have a boat as young as I was, and to have them there to help me this past year was great," Card says. "I wasn't able to work at all because I was focused on getting school done, so they stepped in and helped out."
If all goes according to plan, Card won't need any more help past October. A top six finish at the Federation Nation Championship will land him a new boat and potentially a boatload of sponsors as he sets off for the 2010 Bassmaster Classic on Lay Lake out of Birmingham, Ala., Feb 19-21.
In preparation for the Federation Nation Championship, Card will stay with friend and UK alum Roger Bitz, who lives close to the Harris Chain of Lakes. He feels that the Harris Chain will play to his strengths as a flipper and sight fisherman. Bitz also has a background in fisheries biology.
"I know he's fished it a lot and does studies on fish movement, but I'm not sure how well he does when he fishes it," Card joked.
Dreaming big has gotten the Kentucky amateur this far, and with continued success he'll be able to reach his goal of keeping his landscape architecture degree a "backup plan."