Justin Lucas, FLW Tour Professional Bass Fisherman, hit the FLW Tour with confidence and earned more than $300,000. The Team Evinrude angler has qualified for the Forrest Wood Cup in both his first two years on tour. Justin was also the co-angler of the year for 2007 and 2008 National Guard West division. Needless to say, Justin has been kicking bass and taking names.
I had the opportunity to speak with Justin, and instead of going with the typical interview of what’s your favorite bait or style of fishing, I wanted to see if we could get some insight to how he decided he was ready for the tour; and some of the things he has learned along the way. I wanted to find out how a person might know they are ready for the big leagues.
First I asked Justin if he found it intimidating to jump from the Co-Angler side, of the National Guard West division, into the national tour? Justin explained that he had prepared himself by taking a season and fishing on the pro side of the National Guard West and the Co-Angler side of the tour at the same time. Justin laughed, “It wasn’t easy. I was flying back and forth for events. Three suitcases along with a rod tube just for tackle. I had a small carry on for clothes.”
He figured if he could pull off fishing both divisions and do well he’d be ready to hit the tour full time. “As a pro in the National Guard West I had to make decisions, when to move, when to stay, when to change up patterns. There are so many on the water calls you have to make.” Justin made those calls well enough to land him in the FLW Cup his first year as a boater. Then on his trips back to the east to fish the tour events, he was learning the waters and gaining valuable experience that he uses today. “I built confidence and did well in the National Guard West as a boater, so that really knocked back any intimidation factor of hitting the tour.”
With just two years experience in the FLW Tour, Justin has done very well. However, so many anglers make the jump and weren’t ready and don’t survive. So I asked him, how do you know you’re ready? He said, “For me, it was the challenges in fishing the tour and west division at the same time, no I didn’t do so well on tour but I did well enough. I knew I had what it took after making the FLW Cup through the National Guard division as a pro. However, I still needed experience and the only way to get that is to do it.”
I asked Justin if he felt that the National Guard divisions were a good stepping stone on the way to the professional tour. Justin claimed, “Fishing the regional levels is a great thing, and I do believe it is an important step on the ladder. So many anglers think that if they have the money they can do it. The National Guard regional events help you decide if you really have what it takes to catch bass against these guys.” Justin went on to talk about how expensive the sport can be and said fishing the Everstart Series can really help you get your feet wet. Then fishing at the regional levels really puts your abilities to the test. Justin chuckled as he said, “The anglers at the tour level, ‘have no mercy’, you’ve got to have your game face on.”
With that said, I asked Justin if he had been well received on the tour by the other anglers? “They’re not giving out any secrets, that’s for sure. However, if I need help finding all the ramps at a lake or river, or maybe what are the best roads to take, most of the tour guys are really helpful.”
I got to talking with Justin about networks and are they difficult to build on tour. As far as fishing goes, Justin only shares information with is Cody Meyer. Justin said, “We’ve been fishing against each other for years now and we are a good match. Cody is a finesse fishing king, and I like to power fish, so it really helps when we share information.” As far as sponsor networks go, Justin said he gained most of his sponsors while fishing the National Guard West. He claimed that some were the right place at the right time kind of deals and others he had to work for. Justin recommended having these things worked out before you fish the tour as it’s very expensive; you don’t have a lot of time, and you really don’t want to be worrying about these things while trying to fish. Justin is obviously very proud to be on the Nation Guard Team. “It has been amazing to be supporting and spreading the word about one of our nation’s military branches. The patriotism across the country has been awesome, fist pumping, honking, thumbs up. Our country is very proud, and I am proud to be a part of that.” Justin also said that Ranger and Evinrude have been great. “With a boat like Ranger and a motor like Evinrude I don’t have to worry about the lake, weather conditions, or if I’ll get stranded. It’s a non issue as I know my equipment can handle anything I through at it.”
Justin and I started talking about what were some of the differences he has seen going from the divisional level to the tour level. He instantly said, “Learning new water.” Justin pointed out, at the divisional level you are fishing waters that your comfortable with, you know them, and have fished them before. At the tour level, your fishing waters that you may not have ever seen before. He said, “These lakes are big with lots of opportunities to catch bass; however, you have to find the right bass to win. To top it off there is only three days to do it.”
I asked Justin what would be the one thing you would tell someone that wants to make the jump. He quickly replied, “Know you are ready, don’t think you are ready; you have to KNOW you are ready!” He went on to say, “I don’t want to scare anyone off, but you must be confident. It’s totally doable, but you have to know you can do it.”
Justin said that there are several adjustments to fishing the tour level with the biggest being time management. Not only do you have the tournaments, but you have sponsor obligations, and then things that come without notice, plus driving and flying time. He said when he finally gets home it’s all about tackle and his boat. At this level, Justin said, all things fishing is like having a job. Justin claimed, “I would not trade this job for the world! I absolutely love what I do, but it is work.”
Justin also found that prefishing was a totally different challenge in its self. Fishing at the regional level, he was able to hit the water, check spots he knew about, then match that pattern across the lake. He could eliminate water quickly simply from experience. On the tour and without having prior experience on some of the lakes the tour fishes, Justin found that it’s very difficult to find like water. He found that picking a section of the lake and sticking with it helped. I pinned him down on how big a section he likes to use, he commented, “I like to pick two major creeks, if they are big enough they will have everything needed to find quality bass.”
Still picking his brain, I asked if he tried to pre-fish the lakes from the tour in the off season. He said, “I try to get on the waters when he can”. He continued, saying, the off season isn’t the best time to look for fish on Table Rock when you know it’s going to be a spring spawning tournament. He said that looking for spawning grounds would help but you don’t know what the water temps will be or where the clean water will be.
I continued to question Justin, leaning toward things an up and coming angler can do to help promote themselves to the sport and potential sponsors. He said that you have to have a resume and that resume needs to back up what you’ve done so far. Websites and Facebook are great ways to promote yourself and your sponsors. Justin said, “I was once told – ‘Fish good, get good results, and get those results published’, and that’s what I’ve tried to do.”
At this level, there are many things that Justin talked about that are life changing. He was raised in Folsom California but moved to Lake Guntersville. Moving put him in a central location for fishing tour level tournaments. “Fishing California is a great place to lean techniques, they have it all here, shallow water, deep water, grass, and tides. However, history has shown that Western anglers don’t do well on the TVA lakes or in Florida. Another reason I moved to Guntersville to be closer to TVA waters, to learn more about them.”
In closing, I asked Justin what would be something he learned not to do. “Don’t be hard headed.” He went on to say that you have to keep an open mind on the water, things change all the time, you have to change with them. He cited an example when he was on some really solid fish in practice with a swim bait, but the off day prior to the tournament a front came through and dropped the water temp 4 degrees. He stuck with the swimbait too long costing him a lot of time. As a weekend angler, this is a mistake that you can chalk up to a learning experience, but when you fish for a living it could cost you a mortgage payment.
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