Posted by Z3 MEDIA STAFF on 11/12/2014

Story by Matt Pangrac – Photos by Dave Rush and Mark Jeffreys

Note: This is part one of a two-part feature on Elite Series and Major League Fishing pro, Alton Jones.  In Today’s feature, Jones talks about missing the upcoming 2015 Bassmaster Classic in February on Lake Hartwell - the same fishery where he won the Classic in 2008. He also looks back on how the Classic victory that took place nearly seven years ago has impacted his career. Friday’s feature will cover Jones’ involvement with several charity events in Texas and highlight how his son, Alton Jr., is looking to follow in his father’s footsteps.      

Moore, OK – From the moment that B.A.S.S. announced this past January that the 2015 Bassmaster Classic would return South Carolina’s Lake Hartwell, Alton Jones openly stated that qualifying for the championship event was at the front of his mind.

The last time the Classic was contested on Lake Hartwell in 2008, Jones posted a victory by patiently crawling a jig across the bottom in frigid water temperature to the tune of 49 pounds, 7 ounces of Lake Hartwell bass. He outdistanced his closest competitor, Cliff Pace, by over 5 pounds.

“The reason that we all fish is so that we can qualify for the Bassmaster Classic and have a chance to win that tournament.  Having won it in 2008, I was certainly hoping to get a chance to fish it on Lake Hartwell again,” explained the Texas pro.    

“It is funny how fishing goes, because I was on a pretty good roll early this year and it looked like I was going to be solidly inside the Classic cut just as long as I avoided having multiple disasters. As it turns out, I had multiple disasters,” Jones stated with a dry chuckle.    

Jones did indeed start out the 2014 season on a roll, finishing inside the Top 20 in three of the first four regular season events with a 17th place finish on Lake Seminole, 4th place finish on the St. Johns River, and 18th place finish on Toledo Bend.  He would go on to finish inside the Top 40 in five out of the eight Elite Series tournaments where Toyota Angler Of the Year points were on the line, but the “multiple disasters” that he was hoping to avoid proved to be the backbreaker.  

In the eight Elite Series seasons from 2006 through 2013, Jones finished a tournament in 85th place or below a total of just six times.  In 2014, he recorded three finishes of 85th place or worse.  He finished in 85th place on Table Rock Lake, 97th place on Lake Dardanelle, and 89th place on Cayuga Lake.  In those three tournaments combined, he garnered a total of just 32 TAOY points.   As a result, Jones missed qualifying for the 2015 Bassmaster Classic by 16 points and finished in 45th place in the final TAOY standings.   

The 2015 Classic miss marks the first time since 2011 that he failed to qualify for the championship event, and only the fourth time that he has failed to qualify since he fished his first Classic in 1996.

“It’s one of those things that I can’t really put my finger on what went wrong,” Jones explained.  “Sometimes that’s just the way the ball bounces and you can’t win them all.  This one stings more than any other Classic miss in my career. I was really looking forward to fishing another Classic on Lake Hartwell.”  

Even though there is still salt in the wound, Jones is looking to turn a disappointing season into a positive.  “I’m hoping that this will really light a fire under me and drive me to work even harder next season,” he stated.

Jones is an ardent Baylor Bears fan, and he turned to a college football analogy to explain what he hopes will drive him to success next season.  “Baylor lost to West Virginia this season, and that may cost them a shot at the college playoffs,” he explained, referring to the No. 7 ranked Bears. “A loss may end up being a good thing because it can cause you to refocus, evaluate your game, and step it up the best that you can.”

He also credited his faith with the ability to bounce back and keep a positive attitude.  “I’m a Christian, and with my faith in Christ, I fully believe that the Lord provides me with the fish that I’m supposed to catch.  When I’m supposed to win a tournament, I do.  When I’m supposed to finish dead last, I do.  My perspective on that is that I’m going to go out and give my very best on the water and off, so I don’t have to lament too much because I strongly believe that there’s a reason why God doesn’t want me to compete in the Classic this year.”  

Just because he’s not in the Classic field doesn’t mean that Jones won’t be at the Hartwell Classic in February.  As is often the case with anglers who fail to make the field, he’ll have a strong presence at the Classic Expo.   While he is more than willing to meet with fans and fulfill his sponsor responsibilities, he knows that the three days working the Classic Expo floor will be challenging.  

“When you miss a Classic, especially one where you would have probably been named as one of the favorites because you’ve won there before, part of you wants to just crawl under a rock because the first question that people usually ask you is, ‘How come you’re not fishing the Classic this year?’  You just have to tuck your head down and tell them that you missed it.  

“I love interacting with fans, but in the front of my mind will be the fact that there’s a Bassmaster Classic taking place on Lake Hartwell and I’m at the Outdoor Expo.  I’ve sat in the stands before when I missed the Classic and watched the weigh-in, and it has really given me an interesting perspective,” Jones continued.  “You can tell that the guy who finishes dead last in the Classic always feels terrible for such a poor showing. You can see it on his face – it looks like he just got run over by a truck.  Well, I can tell you that when I’ve been watching from the stands, I would gladly trade places with that guy.  I’m sure I’ll experience that same thing this year at Hartwell, because fishing the Classic is living the dream.”  

Even though he won’t be in the Classic in February, the fact that it is returning to where he was victorious in 2008 has allowed Jones to reflect on how his career has grown and matured since he lifted bass fishing's most sought after trophy. "Winning a Classic certainly will solidify you on the business side of things, and success in that field all comes down to having a fan base that will follow your career and realize that if I can catch fish on a certain lure, so can they.   The Classic really elevates you to another level and helps you develop that fan base and withstand a subpar season like I had this past year.

“Personally, looking back the most important thing that I’ve gained since my Classic win in 2008 hasn’t been on the business end,” he continued. “The Classic gives you peoples’ ears, and after you win a Classic, more people listen to you. It has opened doors to speak at big events, share my faith, and impact people on an individual basis.   I’ve had opportunities to develop relationships with people who have gone through or are going through really tough crises, and getting encouragement from a Bassmaster Classic champion seems to have a greater impact.  For me, that has been the most significant thing that has come from winning the Classic.”