College Angler To BASS Classic Champ

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Jordan Lee’s fast-track to bass-fishing’s biggest prize.

Twenty-five-year-old Jordan Lee, of Guntersville, Ala., had given up all hope of winning the 2017 GEICO Bassmaster Classic. As he sat in the “hot seat” as the leader, there were still plenty of anglers to weigh in, and everyone knows that B.A.S.S. likes to hold the biggest sacks of bass until the end to build the drama.

The Classic was held at Lake Conroe just outside of Houston, Texas, on March 24–26.

On the last day, Jordan was about 13 pounds behind the leader Brent Ehrler, of Newport Beach, California. Jordan was in 15th place out of the 25 competitors who make the cut to the final day. While winning seemed far-fetched, Jordan of course still wanted to finish strong and continue to compete—the better he placed, the more money he would earn.

On this last day of the Classic, Jordan didn’t get a bite during the first 30 minutes.

“I knew I’d have to catch five bass that would weigh around 30 pounds total to win, because the leaders had been bringing five-fish limits of 20 pounds each or more to the scales,” Jordan said. “My goal was to have the best day I could and keep on fishing hard. But on that last day, I felt I didn’t have a chance to win.”

Jordan Lee’s Bass Fishing Journey

Jordan Lee started fishing for bass when he was 10 years old. When he was 12, his mother drove him to bass tournaments, and that continued until he got his driving license at age 16.

“In those days, I fished out of a jonboat with a 9 1/2-horsepower motor in lakes around my house,” Jordan recalls. “Only about 15 other competitors might be in those tournaments, but that was where I began to build my love for competition bass fishing.”

At that time, Jordan’s high school didn’t have a bass fishing team. But when he was 16, he started fishing bigger local tournaments close to home, tourneys with lots more competitors.

“Back then, all the other tournament fishermen were much older than me,” Jordan says. “I was just a junior in high school. But I really liked to compete, and I quickly learned that every day of bass fishing presented a different challenge—where to find the bass and what lures to use to try and catch them. I learned that I would have to make changes every day in my fishing strategy because no two days were ever the same.

“I won my first big tournament—a two-day one—when I was a senior in high school. One hundred boats entered the tournament, and I won $5,000. I beat all the locals who fished on Lake Guntersville where I now live. One of my biggest advantages to improving my fishing was my parents. They were always very supportive.”

After high school, Jordan attended Auburn University to study marketing, and he earned a degree in marketing. However, in addition to earning that college degree, being a member of the Auburn University Bass Sports Club (AUBSC) team, formed in 2007, was also very important to Jordan.

AUBSC consistently has been one of the top collegiate fishing teams in the nation.

“In 2009, when I arrived as a freshman, the Auburn bass fishing team just had started, and I joined the team,” Jordan says. “I fished well my freshman year, and more importantly I made many lifelong friends. Our team was pretty successful while I was at Auburn, and I really enjoyed my college experience.

“Shane Powell was probably my No. 1 partner when I was on Auburn’s fishing team. I also fished with Paul Davis and Shaye Baker. During my junior and senior years, I fished some of the tournaments with my brother Matt. He had graduated from Birmingham Southern and then gone to Auburn to get a second engineering degree. So, we both finished college about the same time. Matt was also into competitive fishing, and he earned a berth at the Bassmaster Classic the year before I did.”

Jordan Lee fished the 2013 Bassmaster Classic and finished in sixth place at his first Classic.

By then, Jordan knew he wanted to be a tournament pro and fish in the Bassmaster Elite Series. To get to the Elite Series, a fisherman had to qualify through different Bassmaster Open tournaments. Jordan and his brother Matt both qualified. Jordan qualified through the Central Open Circuit, and Matt qualified through another Open circuit.

“My first year to fish on the Elite Circuit was in 2015,” Jordan Lee said. “I finished the year in ninth place. I was fortunate enough to pick up some great sponsors, including Carhartt. To qualify for the Classic, I finished sixth in the Bassmaster Angler of the Year race.”

2017 Bassmaster Classic Drama

About 45 minutes into the final day of the Classic, Jordan caught a 3-pounder; however, he recalls he only got eight or nine bites all day long. Engine troubles limited him to fishing this one place he’d located during practice.

“I was fishing several different baits, but I caught most of my bass on a brown living-rubber Strike King football-head jig, using either a Rage Craw or a Strike King Space Monkey as a trailer. I also fished a Strike King Series 5XD in the citrus-shad color and a Strike King 8-inch straight-tail worm. I had found a hard spot in 6 feet of water on a point coming out of a creek.

“All the bass I caught were postspawn bass. This spot must have been a staging area where the bass stopped over before moving out to the river channel. The place I was fishing didn’t have any brush, stumps or other bottom structure. Because the weather was warm, new bass were moving onto this spot every day, although no school of bass seemed to be holding there. This place was very hard to find, and I just happened to pinpoint it. I was fishing the Strike King 5XD on several different points coming out of spawning pockets as a search bait when I discovered that hard-bottom spot.”

Jordan fished 12-lb. test Seaguar AbrazX line when cranking on a Quantum 7-foot, 10-inch medium-heavy cranking rod and a 5.3:1 Quantum KVD cranking reel. He used Seaguar’s AbrazX 17-lb. line with the jigs and shaky heads. He also liked Seaguar’s InvisX line.

On the last day of the Classic, he caught a 6-pounder to make his catch that day a total of 27-lbs., 4-ozs.

One of the big advantages that Jordan had was that no other competitor had found the site he was fishing. After the first day of Classic competition, Jordan was in 37th place among the field of 52 competitors. When the last day (Day 3) of the Classic ended, Jordan figured he had five bass that would weigh between 25 and 27 pounds, but not nearly enough weight to win the Classic, he thought. If the leader, Brent Ehrler, caught another 20-lb. bag of fish, and the other competitors brought in five fish that weighed about 20 pounds each, Jordan just hoped to be in the Top-5 finishers.

Traditionally, officials at the Bassmaster Classic held the anglers they believed had the best chance to win. The last five fishermen to approach the weigh-in scales would have the biggest sacks of bass to ensure a dramatic finish. No one thought that Jordan Lee possibly might have an opportunity to win. So, he weighed-in among the middle of the competitors going to the scales.

“Only 25 anglers weighed-in on the last day of the Classic, and I was in first place after I weighed-in,” Jordan reports.

Since the leaders in the tournament would weigh-in last, Jordan truly didn’t have any hope of winning the tournament. However, he had heard rumors from the other competitors that they had a slow day and hadn’t caught many bass. Because the tournament was held during the postspawn, Jordan realized the bass were moving every day and weren’t schooling up.

The small place Jordan had discovered was much like a stop sign on a major highway. The bass might stop there for a short time and then move out to deeper water. For that reason, Jordan understood that patience would be his best chance to win the Classic. If enough bass stopped on that little piece of hard bottom before they moved to deep water, he might have a chance to win. Since that was the only place he had located where he thought he could catch some big bass, he made the decision to fish that one spot all day long, casting across the point for more success, rather than parallel to it.

On the first day, Brent Ehrler had come to the weigh-in scales with five bass that weighed 23-lbs., 3-ozs. That catch included a 9-lb., 11-oz. monster to anchor his limit. On the second day of the tournament, Ehrler brought in another five-bass limit to the scales that weighed 20-lbs., 1-oz.. His two-day total of 10 bass was 43-lbs., 4-ozs.

Meanwhile, on the first day Jordan Lee only weighed-in three bass for a total of 8-lbs., 6-ozs. Then on the second day, Jordan weighed-in four bass with a total weight of 21 pounds, including a 7-lb., 7-oz. bass. Jordan’s total after the second day of competition was seven bass that weighed 29-lbs., 6-ozs. Jordan expected to get crushed by Ehrler.

But on the last day, Ehrler five bass only totaling 11-lbs., 10-ozs., giving Ehrler a total of 15 bass that weighed 54-lbs., 14-ozs.

On the last day of the 2017 Classic, Jordan Lee weighed-in five bass at 27-lbs., 4-ozs. Jordan’s total for the entire Classic was 12 bass that weighed 56-lbs., 10-ozs.

“When I realized I’d won, I didn’t have any idea of what was about to happen,” Jordan said. “I couldn’t believe that I just had won the 2017 Bassmaster Classic. I experienced some strange feelings, since I was happy, but at the same time I felt bad for Brent Ehrler. He came so close to winning, and I knew how he felt. I was really happy for me, but very sad for Brent, since I’d been in his position before— leading the tournament for a couple of days and then losing. I really had some mixed emotions about my win.”

After Jordan was announced the winner, he got in his boat with his family and his girlfriend, Kristin, and took a victory lap around the arena, which is traditional for winners of the Bassmaster Classic. A dream that had started when Jordan was 12 years old now had come true.

Steve Johnson, of Auburn, Ala., ended up finished in second place with a tournament total of 55-lbs., 1-ozs.

Jordan Lee’s Future

Very few people set goals for their lifetime careers as young Jordan Lee did when he first started fishing competitively at the age of 12. Even fewer individuals continue to work toward that goal all the way through elementary school, high school and college, and even fewer obtain that goal.

Only four years after Jordan graduated from college, he beat the odds of a bass fisherman coming from 15th place on the last day of the Bassmaster Classic to winning the race. That feat was about as likely as a race horse with the slowest time going into the Kentucky Derby and then winning that race.

Yes, Jordan Lee found a magic spot where bass held over before they moved to deep water. However, the bite was coming so slow that most tournament anglers probably would not have spent their entire last day of the Bassmaster Classic fishing that one spot.

Many Classic contenders believe the more different places they fish for bass during a day, then the better their odds are for winning. Or, many will set up what is known as a milk run—having identified five to 12 different places they plan to fish during a competition. But Jordan Lee only had one place where he had caught heavy bass. He was patient enough to stay there all day on the last day of the tournament, and his patience and dedication paid off.

He also avoided a mistake that many young bass fishermen make. Instead of dropping out of high school and trying to become a competitive tournament fisherman, Jordan went to college, joined a college fishing team, honed his skills, and received two educations at the same time—one in marketing and the other in tournament bass fishing. After graduation, Jordan applied his skills to his chosen profession, and he stunned the bass-fishing world by winning the 2017 Bassmaster Classic.

Jordan Lee has blazed the trail for other young tournament fishermen to follow. He’s touched all the bases on his way from being a 12-year-old boy with a big dream to realizing that dream as a 25-year-old and winning $300,000 at the Bassmaster Classic.

When GON asked Jordan what he planned to do with all the money, he answered, “I’m putting it in the bank and saving it, until I have to give a big chunk of it to Uncle Sam.”

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