When Jacob Wall was not yet a teenager, he’d watch pro bass anglers on television then coax his parents into driving him to Central Point’s Expo Ponds to try his hand at those tricky casts from the bank.
With his tennis shoes in the shoreline mud, Wall would picture himself casting from a boat while wearing a bright fishing shirt bedecked with sponsor patches.
“This is where it all started, Expo Ponds,” he says, casting again from the bank for perhaps his last time. “I learned a lot from fishing these small ponds.”
The 24-year-old Jacksonville man, who has been telling friends since his grade-school years that he would one day become a professional bass angler, has turned what started as a dream and sounded like a boast into a fact.
Wall is heading to the big time in January when he joins the FLW top tournament-fishing division, competing for six-figure paychecks in one of the top bass-fishing platforms in the world.
Wall is coming off a Rookie of the Year campaign in the FLW Costa Series Western Division tournament trail, placing 30th in the series championship Nov. 1-3 at Lake Guntersville in Alabama, finishing his rookie campaign with a $2,500 check.
When he fires up his engine to fish this year’s first FLW tournament on Sam Rayburn Reservoir in east Texas, he’ll be fishing for a $100,000 check, the standard first-prize payout in the seven-tournament season that crisscrosses the South and East.
When he does, he’ll be the first to reach bassing’s big-time from the coldwater salmon world of Southern Oregon.
“I had a lot of friends who doubted me, I think, and doubted my ability to do it,” Wall says. “I knew deep down that, if I wanted to do it, I could do it. It’s my passion, and my love for it makes a difference.”
Even as a 12-year-old bass-fishing prodigy, Wall knew all those practice casts on his family’s Jacksonville driveway would one day pay off.
For hours after school, Wall would practice pitching or flipping jigs onto plastic targets stapled to pieces of plywood, emulating casts he’d seen on televised bass tournaments and believing that one day he’d be that guy.
That practice earned a trip to the finals of the national Bassmaster CastingKids competition in 2007, then he returned the following year and won it all.
He initially competed in local tournaments through the Crater Bass Club and later St. Mary’s School.
In 2011, he and former partner Colby Pearson won the first Oregon high school championship and ended up second in the national high-school bass championships.
From there Wall matriculated to the University of Oregon, where he fished for the school in its club-sports program and proved that Salmon Nation also has a few warmwater Favorite Sons.
His U of O team won two western division titles and qualified to fish the nationals all four years he was on the team.
“Once you made it to the national level, that was 400 to 500 schools trying to get there,” Wall says. “That was a whole different experience, a real eye-opener to the kind of competition I’d have in the pro circuit.”
After graduation in 2017, Wall returned to the Rogue Valley and fished this year’s FLW Costa Series before reaching the big time with FLW this year.
“It’s a lot more serious,” Wall says. “You can’t just go out there and kick around. You have to manage your time really well.”
Professionals also have to manage the stress of knowing paychecks can see zeros added or taken away in the matter of a few casts.
“I don’t let (pressure) bother me maybe as much as I used to,” he says. “Now I just go out fishing and try to stay focused.”
The initial tournament for FLW — which stands for Fishing League Worldwide and is the world’s largest tournament-fishing organization — begins Jan. 10.
Wall is all in on the tour, planning to make Huntsville, Alabama, his home base for the string of tournaments.
His tournament bass boat already is in Alabama, and he plans to join it next month.
Wall, who works locally for the Dick’s Sporting Goods, hopes to transfer and work some at its Huntsville store between tournaments while he builds his resume and sponsors on the FLW Tour.
Wall says he’s had tremendous support from Day 1 from his parents, Jocie and Steve Wall. His dad has regularly traveled the bass circuit with Jacob, including this month’s FLW Costa Series championships, just like those early trips to Expo Ponds.
On his recent trip here, Wall checks his watch. Still time for a few more casts.
So what if there’s no boat and his tennis shoes are toeing the pond muck. Even though it’s now Wall’s job, it’s also still his main hobby, the main thing he does for fun.
“This is my fun,” Wall says. “It’s like everybody says, ‘Do what you love to do.’ If you can do it for your job, even better. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.