Becoming a professional fisherman at a young age seems like the perfect situation for anyone that loves this sport. Not all stories are created equal, but my story of a 20-something year old angler hitting the professional fishing ranks is one of hard work and good fortune.
As I mentioned in my last column, fishing is all I’ve ever known. I got my start early in my teen years and fished as much as possible locally before jumping to regional and national competition. Not all of my national competition was done on the front deck, but I found my way as a co-angler instead. All of my fishing up to that point culminated with a Co-Angler of the Year award from the FLW Tour as well as a win that same year.
I asked my high school sweetheart Lindsey to marry me and also decided it was time to try my luck from the front deck. I was fortunate to meet some great people and partners that saw something in a 21-year-old diehard angler from Arkansas and eased the pressure to make the financial jump.
The fondest memory of my first year as a professional is undoubtedly Lake Norman. It just so happens to be the site of my first big win from the front of the boat as I took a FLW Tour title there in my rookie season. I can remember that event like it was yesterday. Young Californian Justin Lucas was my co-angler practice partner that year, and we weren’t catching much. It was one of those tough practices that people often label you as a sandbagger afterwards. I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to do in the event, but I was going to lock a finesse jig in my hand until I figured something out. I can still hear Lucas back at our room saying “dude, what’re you going to do during the tournament bro” or something like that. I won the four-day event and beat Andy Morgan by a pound and a half. It was a dream come true to hoist a trophy of that magnitude. I became the youngest angler to win a FLW Tour event, which still amazes me. I whole-heartedly expect that to be broken at some point with the young anglers entering the ranks these days.
I guess it worked out like it was supposed to, which I’m thankful for. Winning the $200,000 prize catapulted me into somewhat financial freedom during an important year of my life. I was getting married later that year to Lindsey, and I was a young touring pro hoping to have enough dollars and cents in the bank account to continue fishing in the coming years.
It’s been the better part of a decade since my first professional win, and now I’m going into my third year on the Bassmaster Elite Series at just 31 years old. I feel like I’ve grown tremendously as an angler since that win, but yet I don’t have another title to prove it. That’s how competitive bass fishing is. It’s not if you’re good enough, but if you show up and prove it when the opportunity presents itself.
I fished the FLW Tour as a pro for eight years and was fortunate enough to make seven Forrest Wood Cup’s during my time. I’ve finished second in points two separate times (both to Andy Morgan), I’ve finished second in a Tour event at Lake Chickamauga and even runner up at the Toyota Texas Bass Classic to Keith Combs. I even finished second in Opens points the year I qualified for the Elites. Overall, I’ve certainly gotten a lot better. My last two years on the Elite Series haven’t shown my full potential as an angler.
So much of this game is mental, and those decisions are critical. Do you play it safe and get a limit before you go to your big fish spot? Do you run straight to your kicker area and hope for five? At noon, with two fish in the livewell, what do you do from there?
If I answered a few of those questions differently, I may have two AOY Championship appearances to my credit and a couple shots at Classic berths. They all contribute to the learning experience, though.
Those are all questions that are supposed to get easier with experience, but the more you think you know about bass fishing, the more scenarios that clutter your mind. At times it was tough being a 20-something year old in the professional ranks, but at the same time being naïve probably pushed back the voices in my head.