I’m pretty sure that five years ago no one outside of my close circle of friends knew much about me. Even three years ago, only the most hardcore bass fanatics could recognize me.
Now, though, more fishing fans are starting to learn about me due to my spectacular flow and my love of big smallmouths. You might’ve seen me on TV fishing with Zona. Perhaps you’ve even purchased a product with my name on it. It still amazes me how far I’ve come in such a short time.
It almost didn’t happen. My Bassmaster Elite Series career almost got cut short before it built up any steam.
When I qualified to fish the 2015 Elite Series season, I barely had two nickels to rub together. I was crashing on a couch in my buddy’s basement, waiting for my limited sponsor dollars to kick into action in January, and trying to figure out how I was going to pay for my deposits. Fortunately, my friends here in Minnesota wanted to see me succeed, and they threw a hell of a fundraiser for me at a local bar. They had raffles and giveaways, and we bought some cheap kegs and sold beer to come up with that first payment.
Between the fundraiser and sponsor dollars, it definitely didn’t cover everything. I was fishing out of an older boat with 1,200 hours on the outboard, which broke down at all but one tournament. My old truck had its share of problems, too, but I finished in the money in both tournaments on the Western Swing, which kept me going. Later in the year I made my first Top 12 at the St. Lawrence, another payday. I came out even on the year.
Heading into 2016, I was pretty much in the same position, minus the fundraiser. Sponsors were going to pay for about half of my expenses, so I needed to win some money to stay afloat. There was a very real chance that I’d have to call it quits if I didn’t find a way to earn some cash fast. Unfortunately, after getting a check at the St. Johns, and then making another $9,069 in a Southern Open, I missed the money in the next four Elite Series tournaments. I was on the verge of being dead broke, but a 37th place finish at Texoma and a 17th place finish at Cayuga gave me the gas (and gas money) to keep pushing.
The most important prize in view was the end of the year Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship on Mille Lacs, my home waters. I knew if I could get to that point I could make some waves. After an 85th place debacle on the Potomac, though, my chances were looking slim. It was do-or-die at the Upper Mississippi out of La Crosse, and while Ott DeFoe ultimately won the tournament, my second-place finish got me valuable TV time and – more importantly – allowed me to squeak into Mille Lacs. Every successful angler on tour can tell you about a similar pivotal moment that gave them their opportunity. You have to grab it when it presents itself.
The hard part about fishing when you’re nearly broke is that it leads you to fish carefully, trying just to squeak into the money. When you’re aiming for 50th, though, you usually end up 90th. At La Crosse, I was forced into a situation to make something happen. I knew that I could probably fish exclusively for largemouth and get 30 or 40 bites a day, but I targeted big smallmouth exclusively instead. It’s hard to count on those sand drop smallies, but I knew they’d give me the potential to compete for the blue trophy. The risk paid off.
At Mille Lacs I carried that momentum and won the event. It could not have lined up any better. Right place, right time, and I capitalized. Had things not worked out like that, I don’t know if I would still be out here. I’d have tried to stay as long as I could, but there are no guarantees.
It was never my goal to be rich, or to drive a fancy car or own a big house. All I’ve ever wanted is to make a living bass fishing. That’s where I am now. On top of that, instead of living the bachelor life of couch surfing I’ve got a house of my own, an incredible wife and a beautiful 6-month-old daughter. Now I can afford to take chances on the water with the goal of building my career.
Despite my relative comfort, I’m every bit as hungry to compete as I was a few years ago. I haven’t won a regular season Elite Series tournament or a Classic, and I want another big trophy. I want to stand on that stage in front of my wife and daughter and the whole bass fishing world, and enjoy how far I’ve come. I feel like I’m still every bit as driven as I was as an Elite Series rookie, except now I have my own bed to sleep in.