Opens profile: Sands ‘bears’ down on bass

Ole Davy Crockett didn’t have much on Tennessee’s Cole Sands who is currently sixth in the overall 2022 Bassmaster Opens Angler of the Year standings. The “Ballad of Davy Crockett” was the theme song for the Davy Crockett television show, which was popular in the 1960s. One line in the lyrics is, “Killed him a bear when he was only 3.” Sands killed him a bear when he was only 5 while growing up in Alaska.

His father Holland, an avid outdoorsman, instilled Sands’ love of the outdoors early in life. They hunted often, mainly for bear, moose, grouse and ptarmigan and fished lakes and rivers for pike, salmon and trout.

He had to leave Alaska’s sportsman paradise at age 10 when the Sands clan moved to a suburb of Chattanooga, Tenn. He found the environment confining, to say the least.

“I hated it,” Sands said.

He visited a local tackle shop hoping to find an outlet for his outdoor addiction. There he was told about the Cleveland Junior Bass Club in Cleveland, Tenn. The club held a youth tournament once a month. Adult anglers from other clubs volunteered their time and boats to take the youngsters fishing. Sands signed up and fished with the club from 11 years old through 17.

“The first year I blanked in every tournament,” Sands said. “I was casting salmon spoons and pike baits. I had no idea what I needed to catch a bass.”

His lack of success prompted him to read up on bass fishing techniques and to watch bass fishing TV shows to learn everything he could. He claims that you can never stop trying to learn more about this sport. He soon began catching bass in the junior club events that took place mainly on Chickamauga, Nickajack, Watts Bar and other lakes on the Tennessee River.

“I learned a lot of fundamentals like seasonal patterns and certain techniques that work really well,” Sands said. “I can’t thank the adults enough who took time to help us kids fall in love with this sport.”

In his sophomore year at Walker Valley High School, Sands and one of his fishing buddies started a high school fishing club. It allowed him to fish bass tournaments on lakes throughout Tennessee. In his senior year, he and his partner Caden Watson won a High School Bassmaster Classic on South Carolina’s Lake Keowee. They adjusted to March’s frigid weather and cold water by fishing the floating fly method to sack spotted bass.

Sands qualified four times for Bassmaster College Championships while attending Tennessee’s Bryan College on a fishing scholarship. The fact the university overlooks Lake Chickamauga made it especially appealing. College tournaments took him to bass waters from Florida to Texas and included one event in Minnesota. He graduated with a master’s degree in marketing and another “master’s” in bass tournament fishing.

“I learned more about bass fishing in college than in any other part of my life,” Sands said. “I want to fish professionally. I used those events as a learning platform. A bass is a bass everywhere you go, but different things work in different places.”

A highlight of his collegiate bass fishing career was when he and partner Conner DiMauro won a Bassmaster College Championship at Florida’s Lake Harris in 2020 with a three-day record catch of 84-pounds, 12-ounces.

“We found a little patch of shell next to a grass line,” Sands said. “We caught our bass on a Carolina rig. The bite was slow, but every bass we caught was between 4 and 8 pounds. We could do no wrong that week.”

Upon graduating in 2021 Sands started a successful business guiding for bass on Lake Chickamauga. Being a collegiate national champion who had won a number of college bass tournaments on this lake helped him quickly garner clients. The marketing skills he learned in college have helped him promote the business, and word-of-mouth from happy clients has done more good than anything.

He fished the Bassmaster Southern Opens during his final year in college, which was his first taste of big-time professional angling. He finished sixth and 12th in two of the tournaments, but he failed to qualify for the Elite Series due to a poor showing at the first event of the year. He hopes to make amends this season, and he is off to a good start.

“I’m not fishing any other series,” Sands said. “I’m focusing on B.A.S.S. I think the Bassmaster Elite Series is the most prestigious league in this sport. I like the camaraderie there, and I’m friends with a few of the pros.”

Sands sponsors include Hardcore, Yo-Zuri, Tumlin Homes & Land Team-Real Estate Partners,, Witchdoctor Tackle Rods, apparel and FISHCO soft plastics.