June 16, 2016
Bass enjoy a nearly nationwide distribution. But despite this geographic diversity, most major tournaments occur east of the Rocky Mountains. Southern states tend to see the greatest share of the action, due in part to year-round fishability.
Many anglers plan vacations to top bass fishing sites, but several pros have made the ultimate commitment by relocating to the unofficial heartland of bass fishing. That may be a broad and regionally debated designation, but considering the anglers who have elevated their careers by moving to southern locales, it's hard to argue the premise.
Notable transplants include:
– Gary Klein — the veteran Bassmaster Elite Series competitor who moved from California to Texas in 1986 and imported the flipping skills learned from western mentor Dee Thomas.
– Justin Lucas — After a stellar run as a co-angler, the young Californian moved to Guntersville, Alabama, in 2010 and launched a pro career that eventually shifted from the FLW Tour to the Bassmaster Elite Series. Ironically, he notched his first Elite win on the California Delta in May 2015.
– Fred Roumbanis — With two Bassmaster wins to his credit, the former California pro moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, a few years ago.
– Kotaro Kiriyama — Another Bassmaster Elite Series standout relocated from Tokyo to Alabama.
– John Murray — One of the newest eastern transplants, the longtime western pro left Phoenix for Spring City, Tennessee, last December. The cooler and damper climate starkly contrasts with the Arizona desert's heat and low humidity, but Murray says the move should help him better manage the Elite schedule.
Motivations are typically based on proximity, convenience, and economics. Living closer to common tournament destinations reduces travel time and expenses. Other factors enter the equation, such as new habitat types to become better acquainted with bass behavior.
Leaving family and adjusting to new climates are common considerations, but West Coast and international transplants have generally found favorable cost of living in southern climes. And those who left larger cities for rural regions find relaxed vibes a pleasant trade-off for some of the activities offered by metropolitan areas. Tales of goals set and challenges confronted are many, but here are the legacies of several migrant pros.
This Bassmaster Elite Series pro, three-time Angler of the Year (2005, 2013, 2015) and four-time Bassmaster Classic runner-up moved from Santa Clarita, California, to Leeds, Alabama, a suburb of Birmingham in 2002. "The main reason was to be more centrally located, so I didn't have to travel as far to reach tournament sites," he says. "Now I can go home after almost every tournament without having to fly and leave my rig somewhere."
Favoring Birmingham's small-town appeal, Martens notes that he'd gotten to know the area through previous visits and found it appealing on multiple levels. For one thing, it lies in the heartland of bass fishing, so proximity to major fisheries was a plus. On the personal side, he loves running and hiking, so leaving San Fernando Valley's big sky beauty was tough, but he's found northern Alabama's outdoor lifestyle more than adequate. He feels that local fishing has also helped, too, in terms of practice and development of new tactics.
"Performance-wise, I'm sure it has helped to keep my skills sharp in the off-season," Martens says. "Eastern fishing is far different from most West Coast approaches and this region offers diverse waters with many types of habitat that require a variety of skills. I didn't want to move too far north where I'd get frozen out in winter, nor too far south where it's too hot. It's worked out well."
This California native spent several years on the FLW Tour and also fished the Bassmaster Elite Series. Both circuits factored into his two-stage relocation. After qualifying for the 2010 Forrest Wood Cup through the FLW Series Western Division, Hawk moved from Ramona, California, to Buford, Georgia, in fall 2009. That might sound like an odd choice, unless you consider the upcoming championship's location — Lake Lanier, just north of Buford.
"A year before the 2010 Cup, I did some research and figured that Lake Lanier was a place where you could put in your time and give yourself the chance to do well," he says. "It was a summer event and I figured the big spotted bass would be relating to manmade brushpiles. If I spent a lot of time idling and graphing and fishing the lake, I'd give myself an opportunity to do well."
His plan worked to perfection, as Hawk marked lots of brushpiles where he caught enough big spots to win the championship title, worth $600,000, more than enough to cover moving costs. After this win, he moved to Guntersville, Alabama. This second move helped him expand his angling repertoire even further and establish the guide business he now pursues full-time.
The process was no cake walk, however, and Hawk admits that leaving familiar faces and places was tough. But his Cup win validated the process and his move has proven beneficial on multiple levels. "After winning the Cup, I was looking for a centralized location for travel because I knew I'd be fishing the FLW Tour," he says. "And I needed to work on my power-fishing techniques. Coming from southern California, I grew up fishing finesse tactics with a spinning rod, split-hotting and drop-shotting.
"Since Guntersville offers abundant vegetation, along with classic ledges and drops for bass in summer, I knew it would be the ideal place to work on the power-fishing techniques I'd need to compete on the Tour." Hawk adds that being able to fish 365 days a year in a quieter, more angling-centered atmosphere has helped him remain focused on skills development.
"The cost of living in the Southeast, compared to southern California, is so much lower for fuel, food, and licenses," Hawk says. "On many waters in Southern California, you pay for a lake permit, another one to park, and a boat-launch fee. You're $50 down before you even start casting. In Alabama, with an inexpensive yearly license, you can fish wherever and whenever you want. This move has worked out great. I bought a house in Guntersville and I've come to appreciate southern hospitality. I plan on staying for the indefinite future."
The 2012 Bassmaster Classic champion also has notched three Elite Series wins. Departing Lakeland, Florida, in 2009, Lane also settled in Guntersville. Traveling the tournament circuit in a motor home was becoming less comfortable, so settling in a centrally located town with a family-friendly atmosphere made a lot of sense to him on professional and personal levels.
"I knew my family would be safe here, and being just a few hours from many tournament waters instead of 12 hours away from home was a big difference-maker for us," Lane says. "There are 10 churches for every bar, so it's a good place to raise kids. My wife and I both left families in Central Florida. That was challenging because we've been a close-knit family. But Guntersville is a very warm and welcoming town."
Despite his home state's angling abundance, he says the Guntersville move played a significant role in his success because he's been able to expand his skill sets in Lake Guntersville's more varied habitats. "This move has allowed me to become a better fisherman because you can catch fish, and have to catch fish, in so many different ways here," he says. "You have four seasons, so you can learn aspects of seasonal movements we don't see in Florida.
"It was also important to move where I could shoot TV shows and do sponsor promotions without traveling far. This is a place where the media can come and get what they need. That saves a lot of time and travel."
Now a mainstay on the Bassmaster Elite Series, Omori's 2005 Bassmaster Classic win marked the first time an angler of foreign birth had won the title. In 1995, he moved from Tokyo to Emory, Texas, near Lake Fork. His objective was to familiarize himself with catching big fish in diverse ways.
"In the beginning of my career, I wanted to learn how to catch a lot of big bass," Omori says. "Back home I'd be catching 2-pounders. I thought this was a good training ground. And I could guide to make some money between tournaments."
Prior to his Classic win, the pressures of financial sustainability loomed, but his milestone victory put Omori on firm footing from which he's developed his brand and garnered sponsor support. He's learned power-fishing and sight-fishing tactics that have served him well on the national level, and he appreciates the ability to conduct product testing and attend media events on one of the nation's top bass lakes. Small-town life moves at a glacial pace, but whenever he needs boat or engine work, short lines justify the trade-off.
Winning the 2013 TBF National Championship on Grand Lake, Oklahoma, earned Daniels the "Living the Dream" package — entry fees and travel stipend for the 2014 FLW Tour and the use of a Ranger boat, motor, trailer, and tow vehicle for the 2014 season. As his title opened the door to his dream of a fishing career, Daniels traded Fairfield, California, for Tuskeegee, Alabama. Like most West Coast transplants, Daniels appreciated Alabama's convenient location, but his familiarity with this eastern Alabama city made it easier to leave his job as an agricultural biologist and relocate his family.
"I graduated from Tuskeegee University and this is my wife's hometown," Daniels says. "That made it easy with me being gone a lot because she has a lot of family around. For me, Tuskeegee isn't my dream town to live in, but for this to work out, we needed that support system and it was a very smooth transition."
A self-described "city kid from the San Francisco Bay area," Daniels acknowledges the cultural differences his move has entailed. Shopping, dining, entertainment — the menu's thinner, but Daniels quickly lauds the outweighing positives. "I can easily get to most of the waters we fish in 10 hours," he says, "whereas in California, I'm scarcely out of the state in that time. Financially, the move has been a weight off my shoulders. The TBF win was huge because it gave me an opportunity, but if I'd stayed in California, there was no way I could fish the FLW Tour." In addition to his tournament proximity, Daniels appreciates his ability to scout most major eastern fisheries within a half day's drive, an advantage he never enjoyed on the West Coast.
Anglers who have made significant career-related moves have, no doubt, learned valuable lessons about the process. Most point to family adjustments and the need to quickly establish community relationships and secure support systems to assist loved ones during road trips. Lane advises prudent site selection of waters with convenient year-round access for hosting media and attending to promotional and sponsorship duties.
Ultimately, a striking parallel links such geographical moves with the bass fishing tournament game for which anglers choose to relocate: Success depends on prudent scouting, a realistic game plan, and the willingness to believe in your strategy and stick with it long enough for the pattern to successfully develop.
Despite the logistical and financial benefits of moving to the bass fishing heartland, a handful of top-tier pros have chosen to keep their roots out west and travel east for most of their competitive events. For former Bassmaster Classic champion Skeet Reese, fellow Elite pro Ish Monroe, and FLW standout Cody Meyer, it's a challenging routine, but one they feel is worth the ability to keep their West Coast zip codes.
Jay Yelas, the 2002 Bassmaster Classic champion and now FLW Tour pro, grew up out west and moved to Texas in 1991 to further his fishing career. He spent 17 years in the Lone Star state before returning to Oregon in 2007. Here's how he describes his annual routine: "Most years, I drive to Ranger (in Flippin, Arkansas) in January, get my new boat, then head to the first event. After each tournament I drive to the next location, leave my boat with a friend, and fly home. After 27 years on tour, I have lots of friends. I repeat that process all season, then after the last tournament, I take the boat back to Ranger and drive home. Ranger refurbishes it and the buyer picks it up there.
"I've done this for so long that it all seems routine. But I know it's not. I'm the only Oregon resident who's a professional bass fisherman, so I know it's an unusual lifestyle. The travel isn't bad. It allows me to live where I want, close to family, friends, and in the place I love most."
Redlands, California, pro Brent Ehrler made his Bassmaster Elite Series debut in 2015, following a successful run on the FLW Tour, which included a 2006 Forrest Wood Cup win. He stresses the importance of budgeting and logistical planning for those who want to live out west and fish the national circuits. "Living on the West Coast is more expensive," Ehrler concedes. "You have to tack on airfare plus long-term parking fees. Last year I spent $16,000 on air travel."