I’m fortunate enough to have been born and raised here in Jasper, Texas, which put me within very easy access to some of the nation’s finest bass fisheries: Sam Rayburn and Toledo Bend. I’m not sure how many professional anglers have come out of this area—Harold Allen, Tommy Martin, Zell Rowland, Larry Nixon, David Wharton and Rick Clunn did a lot of fishing in this area, to name a few—but I consider it one of the foremost proving grounds for tournament anglers.
It’s a tremendous area to learn about the challenges associated with bass fishing, and an opportunity to gauge your talent against other anglers that are as good as anyone in the country. My Father and I started fishing many of the local club and team events that are well participated in on those two lakes. After some success early on, I ventured out and fished some pro/am tournaments that allowed me to experience many other fisheries across Texas and Louisiana.
My eyes were opened to how important versatility is, and why it’s crucial to adapt to ever-changing conditions. However, I truly believe that much of the foundation of my career was built from fishing against guys that could easily compete in the Bassmaster Elite Series if they chose to do so.
I guess my point is simple: The amount of top-notch sticks and talented anglers that fish locally at the club level is overlooked, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for these guys. I firmly believe that many of the anglers I fished against when I was getting started could certainly compete on the top levels. But, they had full-time jobs, families and were basically fully established in life, and stable—it’s difficult to walk away from that, if not irresponsible.
And that’s not to say it can’t be done late in life, it certainly can. But, I know many regular club anglers are satisfied with fishing on that level, and that's a big part of why I appreciate clubs.
I think a key to making it to the big leagues is getting a good start when you’re young. Like I said, it can be done when you're older, but I think that ample contentment can be achieved fishing locally against local guys, and a lot can be learned.
The club level is where it all should start, and it has paved the way to making many dreams come true. When I got my start, I was young, unmarried and was working for my dad. With minimal financial obligations, and the money I had been saving from the tournaments, I was able to go out and try my hand at competing on the pro level. Fortunately, it worked out for me. It doesn’t always go that way.
If any advice is to be derived from this, it’s pretty simple: The dream of fishing the Elite Series and possibly making the Classic one day all begins with good decisions early on. Yes, time on the water is one of the most important factors to building a career and skills that can hang with the best fishermen in the world. However, being in a solid place financially and with your family are every bit as important. To be perfectly honest, had I been married and working a good job before I thought about fishing professionally, I’m not sure I would have pursued it.
If that were my reality, you can still bet that I’d be on the lake every weekend and fishing as many club and team tournaments as I could. Those types of events were created for guys like that, and many of them are just as good as many of the pros competing on the Elite Series.
I tip my hat to bass clubs across the nation; I’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for them. Dreams can come true at any age and at any point in your life, but if the opportunity ever presents itself, you’ll have to be the judge as to what you do with it.