Where it All Began
I started fishing because of my dad and other family members. To put it simply, fishing is a culture in my family. I got started at a pretty young age, before the age of two. It wasn’t long before I caught my first bass and from that point on, I was hooked.
“James before age 2 and his Dad with one of the very first bass of James’s life”
Growing up, we had two ponds in my backyard which is where I spent most of my time. It felt like every day I had a Zebco 33 stuck in my hand chasing bass, bluegill, and a few catfish that resided in those small ponds.
When I was around six or seven, I started going out with my dad a lot. We fished local lakes together and at eight years old, we fished our first father and son tournament. After my first tournament, that competitive drive kind of set in. We continued fishing local Father and Son tournaments until I was about fourteen. We won two or three different ones together and always placed consistently towards the top of the field.
“James with some solid largemouth bass he caught while fishing a local lake with his Dad”
Growing up, fishing wasn’t the only sport I participated in. I played baseball at a fairly competitive level, I was on a few travel teams throughout my young teens. I also played football up until high school.
My biggest passion from about the age of 13 on through high school was wrestling. I devoted a ton of time to mastering techniques and staying in the gym after practice to get those extra reps which only made me better. I think wrestling taught me a lot about truly having a passion for something and giving it your all. Those lessons definitely have played a role in my fishing career and I thank my Dad for pushing me to better myself every day which helped me continue to give it my all throughout those days where I was sore or tired.
I owe a huge thanks to my Dad for instilling the love of Bass Fishing in me as well. He has taught me so much throughout my life of fishing. I still enjoy fishing with my dad, one of the latest tournaments we won together was back in 2011. With traveling for the Bassmaster Elite Series, I don’t get to fish many tournaments with him anymore, but we still get out on the water whenever our schedules line up!
“James and his Dad with their hefty limit of fish from a tournament in 2011”
Even though I was pretty wrapped up in wrestling throughout my high school days, I started getting into bigger sized fishing tournaments during the off season with my Dad and other childhood friends around the age of fifteen. I learned a ton when fishing those 200-300 boat tournaments. I realized then just how right a day of fishing has to go to come out on top.
College Fishing at Oklahoma State University
After I graduated from high school, I decided to stay somewhat local and went to college and fished for Oklahoma State University. This was right at the forefront of the college fishing programs. It was incredibly beneficial to be on the cutting edge of college fishing which has grown so rapidly since that point. Upon graduating from Oklahoma State University, I can honestly say that I did not count on making a career of fishing. It wasn’t really even on my radar at that time.
As a Landscape Architecture Major, it was tough to find a job in my field outside of having to move to a bigger city. So upon graduating, I got a job working for a small company that makes improvements to refineries. It was more or less a burner industry. During my off days, I was always on the water. On the weekends, I was fishing local tournaments and really taking them seriously. My competitive nature kicked in and I wanted to be one of the best in my area.
Deciding to Fish the Bassmaster Central Opens
Over the next few years, I continued to fish locally pretty hard. As I slowly made my way up the local ranks, I felt more and more confident in my fishing skills. It was around that point that BASS announced that the Bassmasters Classic was coming to Grand Lake.
Almost immediately, I signed up to fish the Central Opens to try to make it to Grand Lake since it’s one of my home lakes and I thought if I made it, I would have one heck of a chance to make a run at it.
Throughout my season of fishing the Central Opens, making the Classic was certainly my main focus. I fished incredibly hard and had some very solid finishes, but I did not end up qualifying for the Classic. However, I ended up finishing high enough in the point standings to qualify for the Bassmaster Elite Series and decided to go for it.
Outside of my family’s support, it was pretty difficult to get backing from companies in the industry. To make a long story short, Daylight Donuts means the world to me. They chose to back me which helped me cover the costs of fishing the Elite’s as a professional angler. I am proud to still work with such a fantastic company to this day. I owe a huge thanks to my other sponsors as well as they have helped me solidify my spot on the Elite’s thus far in my career.
“James with two solid bass from an Elite Series event on the Mississippi River”
Life Lessons from Fishing the Bassmaster Elite Series
Some of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in my life have come from fishing the Elite Series. Fishing this competitively is crazy because of all of the ups and downs. No matter what, you have to prepare day in and day out and show up prepared for every opportunity. It’s not always going to be easy, but staying positive and doing things the right way will teach you to stay more level headed. It’s a hard lifestyle. It can be incredibly stressful, especially for the first few years being on tour and surviving that make or break period. I genuinely feel it made me a better person. It definitely taught me just how important it is to capitalize on opportunities. Nothing is a guarantee and every year you have to continue to perform and capitalize.
I was able to hone in on some of my favorite baits and techniques growing up Oklahoma. They are pretty typical for that area, Jigs, Crankbaits, Spinnerbaits, and a Texas rig. When I decided to switch it up, it was usually a Carolina rig. Even though those are typical baits for Oklahoma, I still utilize these techniques regularly in the Elites which have helped propel me towards the top of the field on more than a few occasions. I also love throwing a Buzzbait and walking Topwater baits. These few baits have become my confidence baits and helped propel me towards feeling ready to compete in the Elite Series.
Over the years, I have learned that you have to get out there and fish outside of your local stuff and learn about other lakes across the country. This will force you to try different things and get comfortable with fishing different styles and techniques. A final thing I’ve learned that I didn’t expect was sometimes taking a break to clear your mind and balance out your life is the best decision you can make. Taking the time to relax and get your mind off of the fishing can help you come into the next event level headed and ready to adapt to the conditions that are presented to you.
August 17th, 2018
Written By ANGLR Team Member, Derek Horner