By Todd Ceisner
Alton Jones Jr. felt like he was just getting warmed up when the coronavirus pandemic put the brakes on the Bass Pro Tour season – and all other sports, for that matter.
Jones was a top-5 finisher in two of the first three BPT events this year, including a runner-up showing at Lake Athens, which was utilized during the Championship Round of the Lake Fork tournament. There’s no way to know how he would have fared in the two events that have been postponed thus far, but his confidence was soaring thanks in part to the continued application of a mental approach he began crafting last season.
“A lot of it had to do with decision-making,” Jones said. “It’s just a mental strategy that I’ve created over these two years and I did it some in the (Bassmaster) Elite Series. It’s about never stop practicing. In every event, I’ve noticed it more that you have to develop something every day. We only get 1 1/2 to 2 days’ worth of practice to cover a big body of water. You can sometimes find one or two days’ worth of fish, but it’s impossible to find enough for four days.”
Treating each day like its own tournament, to some degree, has helped him uncover some productive areas.
“At Eufaula, I found something on day 2 that absolutely pushed me through,” he said. “I just stumbled upon it because I was in practice mode. It all goes back to the speed of the game and speeding up when you sense it’s the right move, but you also have to know when to slow down when you’ve found something worth slowing down for.”
Had the season not been suspended, it’s a safe bet Jones’ name would’ve been one to watch at the Raleigh, N.C., and Grand Lake stages. Not because he has loads of experience in either locale, but because those events likely would’ve fallen around the times when bass in those regions would be in their spawning phase.
That’s when Jones flourishes.
In the 11 BPT events he’s competed in so far, his best finishes (all top-5s) have come between January and March. That’s no coincidence, he says, as that period of time happens to be his favorite time to be on the water, which traces back to his upbringing.
Jones’ father, fellow BPT competitor Alton Jones Sr., is among the top sight-fishermen in the sport and would often have his son tag along on trips to Lake Amistad during the late winter. The vastness of Amistad and its varied water conditions served as a worthy training ground.
“Anywhere from the hardcore pre-spawn to when they spawn is my strongest time of year,” Jones said. “A huge part of it has to do with how I fished growing up. My dad is strong during the spawn and with sight-fishing and that season. I’d argue he’s one of the best in the world at it, and I got a fast track and crash course on catching them that time of year.”
The countless days in the boat with his dad allowed Jones to pick up on the techniques and tricks necessary to effectively read the conditions during the pre-spawn and spawn periods. Once he began competing on his own through high school and in college, the tournament schedules were heavy on springtime events and that played into his hands.
“It’s the simplest time for me where you can put a bait in front of a big fish,” he said. “They get extra predictable.”
Pace of Play
Jones attributes his successful transition to the Major League Fishing format to his ability to pick up the pace at which he fishes without sacrificing efficiency. Granted, he watched his dad compete in all of the MLF Cup events prior to the launch of the BPT, so he had a basic understanding of how the format worked and the different areas of emphasis that were important.
The one aspect that seems to stand out the most is the speed at which some of the top competitors fish. Jones pointed to Jacob Wheeler and Edwin Evers as two BPT pros that he tries to model his pace after.
“I can notice in all of my best finishes, even the top 20s and top 40s, they came with on-the-fly adjustments,” he said. “In this format, you can’t afford to not catch ‘em. You have to speed the game up.
“Wheeler has that extra gear and Edwin does, too. I look at how fast they fish. I’ve tried to mimic what they do and never stop moving. If I’m having a tough day, I make sure to keep my trolling motor going and make one bite.”
Ready to Go
Jones says the “fear of the unknown” as far as when competition will resume has been the most challenging aspect of the break in the schedule.
“Personally, the break has not been super difficult,” he said. “It’s been nice to spend time at home this time of year because it’s not something we get to do. Usually at this time of year, we hardly know what home is.
“The hardest part have been the what-ifs. I feel I was fishing the best I have so far in my career and we’re missing out on a lot of tournaments that would’ve fit my wheelhouse as the spring and spawn are definitely my strengths. I’ve been playing out the what-ifs and what could have happened in my head. Everybody’s in the same boat, though, and we’re just waiting for the call.”