Driven to Cast Off
“I’ve fished my whole life,” says one-time kindergarten teacher Jon Carter. The Orrington native fondly recalls fishing at his grandfather’s camp on Ambajejus Lake in Millinocket. “I often remember being the last one of the kids to come in, rain or shine, day or night because I always fished for anything I could catch.”
Today, the 34-year-old casts off for feisty bass fish and financial security as a pro fisherman, but he credits his mother with supporting his interests in those early days.
“As I got older, I saved money for a canoe and my mom would drive me to local ponds to fish after school and on weekends,” he said. “We’d load the canoe on top of our old Nissan and strap it down for the ride. Then my mom would either paddle me around while I fished or she’d sit in the car and read and beeped the horn when it was time to come back to shore.”
Carter graduated from his canoe to a tipsy aluminum boat and then a fiberglass boat, which he admits he spent more time repairing than operating. While in high school, Carter experienced his first bass fishing tournament. That’s when he got hooked on bass fishing. He’d fish anywhere, including China Lake and Cobbosseecontee Lake, typically from late April through September.
“I’ve always liked the feeling of when they initially bite and pull back,” says Carter, noting Maine’s bass weigh up to nine pounds, where warmer waters produce bass upwards of 20 pounds, making for a challenge requiring finesse and technique.
The 2005 UMaine grad taught in Winterport, all while casting off on weekends and summer. In 2012, he qualified for Maine’s state team and went on to fish the regional event in Massachusetts, which advanced him even further to the B.A.S.S. (Bass Anglers Sportsman Society) National Championship. He won the Eastern Division, which qualified him for the 2013 Bassmaster Classic (the top championship for professional bass fishing in the world) in Oklahoma. “The Bassmaster Classic is like the Super Bowl of fishing,” says Carter, admitting he finished 17th after three days of fishing but learned strategy and techniques from his mistakes while being captured on ESPN.
“I still have the drive to be a full time Elite Series angler [the highest level of professional bass fishing] almost four years after starting this journey, and I can’t think of a single career that I’d be happier doing,” says Carter. Because of this quest, Carter has made pro fishing his career. It can be a healthy paying one, at that. However, many pro fishermen still supplement their fishing career with other monetary sources. Some get support through sponsorships.
Sponsorships are hard to come by, said Carter, but working part-time jobs—from waiting tables at local eateries to conducting geological surveys in Jamaica—has him chugging along to pay the national tournament entry fee of $1,500. His eye is on the chance to win a $40,000 boat and cash. The 2016 winner of the Bassmaster Classic claimed a $300,000 prize, and the yearly winner also earns points to move to other ranks. If Carter can earn top points, he qualifies to fish in the Elite series, which consists of nine tournaments.
To do so, he needs to requalify in his division, which began with winning the 2016 State Championship on Sebasticook Lake in Newport. Then it’s on to the regional tournament in June on Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, all while navigating his 18-foot Triton vessel. Winning this tournament will return Carter to the B.A.S.S. National Championship for 2018.
“I love every part of fishing. The research I do before an event, teaching people about techniques, helping people learn local ponds, sitting in the rain trying to learn something myself, or just talking about fishing. Sometimes, people think I’m crazy for trying to make this my career. I even question myself, but I can’t imagine doing anything else when I still have such a passion for the sport.”