NEXT GENERATION: Four men ages 18 or 19 entered as first-time pros in this week’s 2010 Bassmaster Central Open tournament are aiming for high finishes.
They are looking to follow in Bradley Roy’s footsteps, who at 19 is the youngest ever to compete in the Bassmaster Elite Series. All four dream of becoming fast achievers at that top level, like 26-year-old Casey Ashley, who in three seasons has racked up a win and three consecutive Bassmaster Classic qualifications.
To make it, they will have to perform better than hundreds of other anglers; at the end of the Open season, only the top seven pros in each of three Open divisions will be invited to move up into the Elites.
While younger competitors have shown up on the Open trail now and again, four in one tournament could signal a next-generation trend.
One of the new Open pros is Joey Nania of Liberty Lake, Wash., who will turn 19 on April 15, just after he competes on Texas’ Lake Amistad, April 8-10 in the Central Open’s first stop of the season.
Nania was the 2005 and 2008 Bassmaster Junior World champion. He’s also a BASS Federation Nation competitor.
“I’ve always known exactly what I wanted to do,” Nania said. “I feel like it’s the right time to go for it, to try it. I’m young and I don’t have anything holding me back.”
Nania is very serious about fishing as a career. Fishing is already his full-time job, and he has a strong sponsor base. He even has a manager: his father, Joel Nania, who isn’t paid for his work — yet.
“I guess you’d call it an investment for him, and hopefully he’ll see a return,” said the younger Nania.
Just as focused, but with a different background, is Ryan Piersdorf of Forest Lake, Minn. He turned 19 in January. To compete in the Central Opens this season, he will take vacation time from his factory job as an operator of a computerized lathe.
“I want to make it to the Elite Series, and the Open is a step closer,” Piersdorf said. “That’s my goal in life, to be a professional fisherman, and this is one way I can try for that.”
He said he has competed in local tournaments and in other “lower-end” circuits. He also was a co-angler when he was 17 in an Elite event.
The third young pro scheduled for the Amistad Open is Austin Terry, 18, of San Angelo, Texas. The Amistad event will be his first as a pro, although he served as an Elite co-angler there in 2008.
The fourth is Zack Gagnard, 19, of Pineville, La. The city is near the Red River, where the Central Open will stop in early June.
Last Friday, Gagnard showed just how caught up he is in the sport. He picked up when his cell phone rang, but he didn’t want to talk for long.
“I’m on the water, we’re fishing a tournament, we just lost two 7’s, can I call you back?” His words came in a rush, barely audible over water and wind sounds.