At 25 years old, Jordan Lee of Guntersville, Alabama just became a millionaire. Or at least he’s well on his way, thanks to his surprising, come-from-behind victory at the recent Bassmaster Classic in Houston, Texas. To begin with the prize purse for the event earned him $300,000 in cash. More important, his standing atop the world of competitive bass fishing will result in lots of additional income through sponsorship contracts in the coming year and for many years thereafter.
There are several professional bass fishing tournament tours these days. Some vie to be the top, others claim to be number one; each has it’s own final championship tourney of one sort or the other. Regardless of claims, just one is the true Super Bowl of bass fishing and that’s the Bassmaster Classic, a three day tournament held in 2017 at Lake Conroe.
The size limit at Conroe is 16-inches and anglers could weigh-in five fish each day. Even a limit of barely keepers should weigh about 15 pounds.
That’s why Lee, sitting on a scant total of just 8 pounds, 9 ounces of bass at noon on day two of the contest didn’t hold much hope to be where he’d be standing just 28 hours later. As it turned out, he’d be living his dream of holding high the most coveted trophy in professional angling on competitive fishing’s grandest stage.
Then he went back to a rock pile he’d found in pre-tournament practice. In short order he pulled out what turned out to be his biggest fish of the day, then matched that fish with three more almost as big, dredging the spot with a Strike King Football Jig to get back in the game. Saturday’s day-two weigh-in was with a four-fish bag weighing 21 pounds, including a single bass over seven pounds.
Lee continued his massive move on Sunday, spending the majority of the last day of competition battling Conroe’s unrelenting boat traffic while finding success dragging his football jig across that lone pile of rocks he was convinced still held good numbers of staging, pre-spawn bass.
It worked! After bringing a mega-limit of five fish to the stage weighing 27-4, Lee found himself in first place midway through the final weigh-in – confined to the leader’s hot seat and forced to watch one after another of the seasoned pros parade past with bulging sacks of bass – each one threatening to crush the young angler’s immediate and fragile dream of bass fishing supremacy.
Lee is one of a new generation of professional bass anglers who came up through the collegiate fishing program, a burgeoning system that seems on the way to creating the same sort of feeder system into the pro angler ranks that exists for college football and basketball. Lee fished for the college team at Auburn and graduated there several years ago, pretty much knowing from the time he was a freshman he was headed towards the pro fishing circuits.
Lee is a proto-typical pro angler, with a lot more on his resume than being a really, really good bass fisherman. These days, the game is not only to win on the big stages, but also to be presentable, well-spoken, intelligent and knowledgeable. Stage presence has become increasingly important as social media converts rapidly to emphasize video rather than print. Lee has both the ability to put together a quick how-to video and the capability to write well for the outdoors websites and print publications–odds are, he’s going to have a long and storied career.
The growth of the college bass fishing circuits has been remarkable. Collegiate fishing teams were pretty much unheard of a decade. Today, there are dozens of them across the upper Midwest, the Southeast and elsewhere. A recent national event drew some 500 young anglers to Kentucky Lake. There are also a growing number of high schools with active fishing teams, and some colleges are even starting to offer athletic scholarships to competitive young anglers who show promise.