A Day on the Lake with Bassmaster Classic Champion
(I did this interview for the Outdoor Obsessions Magazine in 2008)
Early in 2008, ESPN announced that the Bassmasters Classic would be taking place 40 minutes from my house. Two minutes after the announcement that the Bass Masters Classic was coming to my hometown, my friend Keith and his wife Brenda had our names on the list as observers. I am a full time Christian speaker and I knew the chances were slim that I would not have a speaking engagement, but God had other plans. As it turned out I had one day free that weekend and the Bass Anglers Sportsmen Society said they could use my buddy Keith and me as non-fishing observers. We arrived at the boatyard before daylight to find out which Pro we would be observing. I was assigned boat #4 and a big smile crossed my face as I found out that I would be observing a friend of mine. None other than Mr. Alton Jones. As we shook hands and climbed in the truck, we took off our hats and I led us in a prayer. I prayed that if it was God’s will that Alton would win the Classic. Well it was and he did! Winning the Bass Masters Classic is like winning the Super Bowl of Bass fishing. I had the opportunity sit down with Alton and ask him a few questions about winning the Bass fishing’s top tournament.
CW:I’m here today with Bass Master Classic Champion Alton Jones. Alton tell us what you were thinking before you fished the Classic at Lake Hartwell. Did you think that you had a shot at winning this event and what was your mindset coming in here?
AJ: Well Chris I had never fished Lake Hartwell before but I did spend some time before the cut off doing some “Pre –fishing”. I put quotes around “Pre-fishing” because basically I road around and looked at the lake. I have a good friend named Glen Finely that lives on Hartwell and I did spend some time riding around the lake with him before hand. You know I have always been a firm believer that preparation is more important than what happens on “Game day”. Because preparation really sets the foundation for the possibility for what might happen once the game starts. I didn’t have any intuition that I was going to win this Classic or anything like that. I did feel Divinely appointed as I prefished and I felt God’s hand in it. Looking back on it now I see His hand all over me winning the Classic. It wasn’t anything that I alone accomplished. It was just a way for God to expand my platform. Just an example: the night before the Classic started, that’s a long night because you have all you tackle that you have been working on. Your game plan is formulated and practice is over. Starting the Classic is always the biggest point in your career at that point. Win, lose. or draw. I was laying in bed praying and something- I didn’t hear a voice but the prompting of the Holy Spirit said: Go write this prayer down. Again I didn’t know I was going to win the Classic but I wanted to pour my heart out so that other people could see what is in my heart before a big day like that. Looking back now having won the Classic, God has used that as a testimony in itself. If people want to read it they can go to my web site and scroll down through the blog. It’s titled Alton’s Classic Prayer. It’s really just praying for God’s will in our life. That’s really the basis of it, but also you know just turning your concerns over to Him. I was real anxious that night before hand and just saying God I’m going to give you this anxiety. I’m not going to deal with it. I don’t have to because your yoke is easy and your burden is light. Learning how to take that anxiety and cast them on Christ and let Him carry the weight.
CW: I got a chance observe you on the official practice day. You were pretty dialed in. Day one you have a great day. Day 2 you are leading the Classic. Then comes day 3. What was Day 3 like for you?
AJ: You know day 3 was very surreal. People that talk to me say “May you were really poised and calm under pressure” and I tell you that’s not like me to be that way. That’s kinda against my grain. I’m usually a nervous wreck and I hit the panic button real quick. So again I have to point to God’s providence in my life that particular day. Because I only got 5 bites that whole day. I had about 70 boats following me at different points during the day. I always had at least 50. You know its not like golf. When you have a crowd watching you in golf the hole is still there, and if you make the swing it is still going in the hole. The bass that we are chasing, those 50 boats may cause him to swim to the next county. He’s not even going to be there. The hole that you are shooting for isn’t even around anymore. But for some reason, I really felt a peace about it. Again I didn’t think “Hey God’s gonna give me this victory” or something like that. But I knew that Christ was right there in the boat with me. Win, lose or draw. I think if there is one thing that came out that day, that God has been working on in my life. Is that the foundation of my life is not in a good bag of fish or a good season. Those things can come crashing down around me. But learning to have my foundation in Christ. He may provide the fish this day or that day or He may not, but when its not your foundation in life. You know the circumstances of that day don’t dictate the mood of your life or the success of your life. So that’s just one of the big lessons that God continues to teach me.
CW: You won the Classic. I got to tell you I was on pins and needles, and I sent you an excited text when you won. Tell me: what had life been like after winning the Classic?
AJ: Part of the preparation that allowed me to win the Classic. You were there in the boat with me and I’ll never forget, you and I went out that day. I had found the fish and I knew how they were positioned, but after the early bite was over, I didn’t know how to catch them. You were in the boat when I finally figured out that I could catch them deep on a jig, and I could catch them all day long. And Ill never forget about the 3rd big bite I put my rod down and cranking up and High fiving you That is something I never will forget. That was incredible. Since the Classic life has been a whirlwind. There has been so many opportunities Right now if I wanted to book myself that busy, I could have a speaking engagement every day of the year. I have had a lot of ministry opportunities and a lot of business opportunities. One of the neat things that we got to do is a couple of days after the Classic I got a call from President Bush. He invited me and my family to meet with him in the Oval office and take a tour with him of the White House. You know getting to share that with my kids, my family and my wife, that’s something my kids will tell their grandkids about. The day they went to the White House to see the President. So it’s been incredible. It does change the way the public views you. I don’t know if that is the right way to say that. You are more recognizable after winning the Classic It’s been amazing to me how winning that won tournament changes your level of recognition with the general public. There are struggles in learning how to deal with that. In some ways it’s really awkward because you have people you never met before coming up to you and shaking your hand. People look at you through eyes of “ you have accomplished this great thing” and I don’t see myself that way. It’s awkward so if people want to just pray for me about something is for God to teach me how to handle that with grace and to use it for His purposes.
CW: I noticed one thing that is different about you winning the Classic is that usually guys don’t have a great year after winning it. That doesn’t seem to be the case for you. I think as of today you are in 7th place for Angler of the year so far. How have you been able to do that/?
AJ: You know I haven’t put any more effort than usual so far. I try and put maximum effort all the time. I think there is a little momentum coming off of winning the Classic. It helps your self-confidence. So much of success in fishing is being confident in your decision making abilities and just trusting in the Lord that win, lose or draw He is going to put me in the position where He can use me the best. I have been fishing well and I have been pleased with that. One thing is there is a lot less pressure. When you win the Classic, you automatically get a berth in the next Classic to defend your title. So I don’t really have to worry about point from that standpoint. It allows me to take a few more risks when I am fishing. If there is a goal that I am fishing for this year is that Angler of the Year title. All it takes is one slip up in the year and that dream dies. So far we are about half way through and God still has that door open. We will see what happens.
(I have been the Chaplain for the Elite Series for 5 years now, and we have an awesome group that attend our Bible Study including this year's winner Cliff Pace)