Opens profile: Soukup looks forward to Elites

John Soukup

After finishing third in the first Bassmaster Northern Open of 2022 at the James River, Oklahoma’s John Soukup occupies first place in the overall Bassmaster Opens Angler of the Year standings. Although he owns The Bass Tank, which specializes in fishing electronics and forward-looking sonar, Soukup didn’t employ this technology while bed fishing at the James River.

However, forward-looking sonar allowed him to pick off enough smallmouth bass at the Cherokee Lake Open in March to claim 60th place. It also helped him catch some of his bass at the first Open of 2022 on the Kissimmee Chain where he finished eighth.

“We sell all brands of fishing electronics nationwide,” Soukup said of The Bass Tank. “We also install electronics and train anglers how to use them. We are one of the first companies to promote and pursue forward-looking sonar.”

The 40-year-old’s meandering path to the Opens helped him become a versatile angler. His father, Larry, got him hooked on fishing when he was a tad. They bank-fished for crappie and bass at ponds and creeks whenever they could.

When he was 8 years old, he and his father began fishing mini-boat bass tournaments. These outings taught him how to sack bass with spinnerbaits, jigs, worms and other lures.

“We fished from a ’76 tri-hull fiberglass boat that had an electric motor on the bow and the back,” Soukup said. “That’s all we ever had until I was 17. I still have that boat.”

Soukup claims that his primary education came from “the school of hard knocks.” After high school he began working as a flooring contractor. He married Molly at age 21, and they struggled to get by.

“We didn’t have anything,” Soukup said. “We started out in a 19-foot travel trailer that had no heat or air. I didn’t fish for almost nine years.”

His contracting company, John Soukup Tile Inc., eventually grew to become a profitable business. It installs flooring mainly for large establishments, such as hotels, casinos and army bases. The larger jobs require a workforce of 100 employees.

Thanks to the success of his company, Soukup was able to resume his passion for fishing in his late 20s. He joined the North Central Oklahoma Bassmasters and began competing in the club’s tournaments as a non-boater. The first year he fished with the club’s president Lee Sanders, who “took me under his wing.”

He did well enough fishing from the back of the boat that year to qualify for the 2009 B.A.S.S. Nation National Championship at Florida’s Harris Chain of Lakes. It was the first event he competed in as a boater. He finished in the middle of the pack, but the experience stoked his competitive juices.

Over the next several years he fished local tournaments, BFL events and even took a shot at the Bassmaster Central Opens as a co-angler in 2011. In 2013 he qualified for Oklahoma’s B.A.S.S. Nation state team.

He qualified for the 2018 Forest Wood Cup by finishing in the top 10 of the Costa Series the previous year. In 2019 he was the Angler of the Year in BFL’s Okie Division. He also competed in the inaugural National Professional Fishing League tour in 2021 and won two of their events — one at Eufaula and another at the Harris Chain.

Three years ago, Soukup teamed up with Scott Palmer, a control systems engineer, to establish The Bass Tank. Because the interest in forward-looking sonar was catching fire, he focused intently on mastering it. He unabashedly claims to be one of the best with this sonar technology, and he has trained a number of professional bass and crappie anglers on how to use it. The Bass Tank sponsors and works with Bassmaster Elite Series phenom Jason Christie, who excels with forward-looking sonar.

As a group, crappie anglers embraced forward-looking sonar before it truly caught on with the bass fraternity. To promote The Bass Tank, Soukup put bass tournaments on hold to compete in crappie derbies. It was imperative that he did well in these events to attract customers. He proved his mettle by placing second with his partner Zeek Anderson in the inaugural “Mr. Crappie” Wally Marshall Classic on Lake Hamilton in 2019.

Besides promoting The Bass Tank, competing in crappie tournaments attracted sponsors who are willing to back his bass fishing endeavors. He will be fishing all nine Bassmaster Opens in 2022 with the goal of qualifying for the Bassmaster Elite Series.

Soukup and Molly live in Sapulpa, Okla., with their four children, two boys and two girls that range from 3 months to 17 years old.

His sponsors include The Bass Tank, Alpha Angler Rods, Xpress Boats, Yamaha Marine, BeatDown Outdoors (graph mounts), Pro-Guide Lithium Batteries, Booyah Baits, YUM Baits, Sunline, AFTCO and Emery Sapp & Sons, Inc.